Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gonna Make You Sweat Gonna Make You Groove

What were you doing 365 days ago - to the minute. It's not often you can answer that question with any accuracy, but today is one of those days. It was exactly one-year ago today, at exactly 9:00 PM (4:00 PM shitty snowy Toronto time), that Led Zeppelin walked on the stage at London's 02 arena.

Led Zeppelin's legendary stage shows and relatively short career run meant that for many people, this was the concert they waited a lifetime for. I was one of those people. Their last American date was on my 14th birthday, their last Toronto date six years earlier. Seeing Led Zeppelin had always been a pipe dream.

I came close once. I arrived in London on Aug 4, 1979, the day of the legendary 1st Knebworth concert for a family vacation when I was 16. My aunt had arranged a ticket with a neighbour who was my age, but a delay in our flight meant I was too late. It would be my last chance to see Led Zeppelin for 28 years.

I wouldn't see London again for 28 years either, and it seems a fitting close that I should return to the city where it almost happened, and in the same year the Sex Pistols would reunite, to finally make it happen.

London was abuzz with the Sex Pistols in 1979, with Led Zeppelin in 2007. Taxi's adorned ads for the new CD compilation, Mothership. In stores, people were talking about the concert, asking us about it. The news covered the ticket line up the day before the show. It was an occasion as much as a concert.

It was a concert first, however. That was what it was all about, the show, the music. And on that front, more than any others, there would be no disappointment. The show! We sat patiently through an array of artists playing one, maybe two songs: Chris Squire and Alan White from Yes, Keith Emerson from ELP and Simon Kirke from Bad Company playing ELP's Fanfare for the Common Man opened the show. Magic, that was. Paul Rodgers was worthy of mention too. Strangely, they stopped the show for a twenty minute setup before Foreigner came on and Foreigner played one song, I Wanna Know What Love Is. "They tore down one drum kit, set up a second," I have joked to more than one person, "and the drummer pulls out his brushes!" One lousy ballad from the band that gave us Feels Like the First Time and Double Vision. You'd be disappointed if you weren't waiting for them to get off stage so Led Zeppelin could get on.

Zeppelin promised a 9:00 start (4:00 SSTT), and they came on exactly at 9:00 (4:00 SSTT). After a short video about the 1975 Tampa show, they hit with Good Times Bad Times, lights flashing to the intro, Jason Bonham paradiddling to his old man's beat, Led Zeppelin were back.

The first chills up the spine, the I can't believe it moment, came surprisingly during the next song, Ramble On. Never a favourite, at this moment, this exact point in time, it was perfect. The concert is, like many concerts, a blur of moments: more chills during In My Time of Dying, watching Jimmy Page strutting, yes strutting at 63 years old, playing that old slide blues guitar; Watching Jimmy strap on the double neck and knowing what was next - Stairway to Heaven; The legendary surrealness of No Quarter, blue lights coming through the stage fog; The never before played For Your Life from my favourite Zeppelin album, the vastly underrated Presence; Kashmir, lush, expansive mesmerizing. It was the true gem, true musical highlight of any show
I have seen; The young couple screwing (yes, you read that right) to Since I've Been Loving You in the seat in front of me redefining the slow minor key blues masterpiece; Whole Lotta Love, especially the moment when it seemed they were going to go old school, go into Elvis' Boogie Mama, and beyond like in their prime; Rock and Roll, ending with deceased John's most famous piece, his son Jason supplicating himself in a "I'm not worthy" manner before the boys at the end of it all.

From start to finish, magical. Jason Bonham indeed was worthy, whether the rest of us were so is an open question.

The trip to London was marred by a bad cold that kept me from being my best. The beer I couldn't quite digest, and in fact had to go to the flat warm stuff to survive. The food gave me trouble, and I stayed in a couple of nights, much to my travel partners disappointment, to try and keep myself going. But on this night I couldn't rest. Back at the hotel the bar was full of fellow travellers, revelling in post-Zeppelin ardour. The bar closed down, so we kept the night porter busy chasing beer for us to drink in the lounge. Sleep would be difficult coming, the night too perfect to let end.

People have asked since, was it worth it? What if they tour, was it still worth it? Yes and yes, is the answer. Every minute, every penny. And since the likelihood that Led Zeppelin will ever tour now seem as remote as ever, it was worth it more so now than then.

Worth every minute, worth every penny.

Crossposted to At Home in Hespeler

original review here.

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