Since they disbanded in 1980, fans like me have always held a glimmer of hope that Led Zeppelin would reunite at some point with their remaining members so that we could experience their collective greatness live one more time. Unlike most of the titanic acts of their time, this has occurred on a very rare basis. The first time was at Live Aid, which was exciting and disastrous at the same time, and then after that, a short reunion appearance in 1988 at Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary Concert. In both cases, Robert Plant’s voice was plagued by fatigue and cracking like many of their shows in the late 1970s, and Jimmy Page was not at the top of his game either. Of course, Page & Plant had their run of tours and recording in the 1990s, but even that was impacted by the notable absence of bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones. In 2007, the stars finally aligned one more time, and for several months Page, Plant, and Jones rejoined forces with Jason Bonham, son of their late drummer John Bonham, for an extended rehearsal session that led up to a single concert on December 12, 2007. For all of that work, they only performed once, but it was a full set and truly was the most amazing way to say hello and goodbye to all of their fans, young and old. That performance was captured on film and record for the 2012 release “Celebration Day”, and remains a lifetime musical highlight for me.
When the film was released to theaters, my son joined me on opening night, and I will always appreciate his willingness to keep me company during this unprecedented moment. Unlike most older bands, it was just the four of them. No “supporting musicians” added to the group to fill out the sand, it was just the four artists left alone to preserve and restore their legacy as the greatest rock band of the 1970s. I dedicated a rainy afternoon and watched the entire film, which flows in exact sequence of the album and actual concert. There has been no shortage of animosity between the original three, but their collective love for Jason Bonham and the experience of reuniting brought out their best performance and they clearly truly enjoyed the moment. Over 18 million fans applied online to buy tickets for this one show, at London’s O2 Arena, and they all got their money’s worth and more.
The show opened with their first song from their first album, “Good Times Bad Times”. The opening chords shook the building, and completely set the stage for what would follow. The second song was “Ramble On”, another song they almost never performed live, and near the end, Page, Jones and Bonham had the first of their notable moments where they gathered in a circle and displayed their collective brilliance, all these years later.
The classic chorus sing along “Black Dog” followed, and as he does when he performs solo, Robert Plant stayed within his range, lowering the key from his untouchable years but still sang with power and pure clarity. “In My Time of Dying” brought out the blues, and they then played another first-time song, “For Your Life” from Presence. Even my favorite band has songs I don’t love, and for me that will always be “Trampled Underfoot”. That said, this version was as spirited and likable as any I have ever heard.
The setlist only gets stronger as the show goes on, and both “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “No Quarter” were truly stunning. For this show, Plant insisted they eliminate the marathon solos and jams, and the result was concise and tight versions that were closer to their original versions. This less self-indulgent performance was easily digested by all fans, and I think could have served them well in the past. During one moment on “No Quarter”, you can see Page just looking over at his band, smiling wryly as he clearly realized how big and how special this night was. Next followed a trio of songs that were the centerpiece of their live shows in the 1970s, “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, “Dazed and Confused” and “Stairway to Heaven”. Plant acknowledged that they had to play those tracks, and although he is well known for his aversion to “Stairway”, he performed it with the honor and grace this classic deserved.
The main set rolled along with a powerful performance of “The Song Remains The Same” (it truly does), and “Misty Mountain Hop”. The first of those was one of the few moments during the show where I realized they would never quite be the same without John Bonham, but his son was absolutely amazing in this show, and by far their best and only choice to play drums. He even sang harmony vocals on “Misty Mountain Hop”, and added a lot to the entire show.
If you were only going to watch one song from this show, it would have to be the set closer “Kashmir”. This song stands as their greatest overall song, and the delivery of this track was absolutely massive. It always brings me to the brink emotionally, and you could see many fans moved to tears by this thunderous finale.
The band came back with two more encore songs, starting with the greatest guitar riff of its day, “Whole Lotta Love”. The show finally ended with a blistering burst on “Rock and Roll”, and it truly has been a long time, been a long time, been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time. As much as the world wanted more, Plant retreated to his tour with Allison Krauss, and even though the other three considered touring without him, common sense prevailed, and to this day, “Celebration Day” stands as the last performance we will ever see from Led Zeppelin. Words can’t properly express how important this band has been in my life, and I remain forever grateful they gave us this one last performance, a show and event of a lifetime. No extended money grabs and no questionable tours held up by supporting musicians, the glory of Led Zeppelin was fully restored forever with a single show.