Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Celebration Day: reliving the Seventies with Led Zeppelin

I was at the Artist Gallery yesterday, the one at the Gurney Plaza, Penang. I waltzed in, saw a box set on the shelf, smoothly picked it up and promptly walked to the payment counter. The girls behind the counter observed my every move, especially since I was hardly browsing the store at all.

Their eyes lit up when they saw what I had brought along. One of them quickly ran to the front of the counter to confirm that there was another copy of the box set left. Yes, there was.

Noticing my raised eyebrows at their strange reaction, they quickly explained that the box set I picked up - which comprised two CDs and two DVDs - was one of their fastest selling items lately. They said that at first, the store had brought in three copies of the box set but they sold out quickly within two or three days. So the store ordered another seven copies. My copy was the sixth sold from the second batch.

The funny thing was, they did not understand why this box set was so popular. They were utterly baffled. I don't blame them because they are so much younger than the youngest musicians featured in the box set. They would hardly be aware of the status of this band. I didn't tell them, but I was surprised that there were actually more people in Penang than I could give credit to that were fans of Led Zeppelin. We sure have good taste in rock music. Welcome to the club.

So this was the box set that I picked up at the music store: Led Zeppelin's Celebration Day which was recorded live at the O2 Arena in London on 10 Dec 2007. This was a one-off reunion concert of the last three surviving members of, in my opinion, the greatest rock band in music history. I did not know that the box set had only been released in November; so I must have been very lucky that the Artist Gallery unknowingly carried the title and that I happened to walk in while the box set was still available.

The reason why I was so prompt to buy the box set was because I have been aware of the concert since 2007. BTW, I wrote about it in Oct 2007 which you can read here. At that time, I was also rather envious of the 18,000 people who managed to buy the concert tickets. A Led Zeppelin concert, let alone a reunion concert. In 1969, Led Zeppelin opened my mind to rock music. Of course, there were other genres of music like pop, but rock music generally still had little following in my island of Penang. I could never forget the occasions I heard Whole Lotta Love over the airwaves, courtesy of Radio RAAF Butterworth. It thrilled me to no end.

Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 following the death of their drummer, John Bonham. Sporadically, the remaining members had still come together for some short reunions but nothing really compared with the one at the O2 Arena in London. That it had taken so long - five years - for this concert to be even released surprises me.

I must say that the music on this box set is excellent. John Paul Jones did a marvellous job with his throbbing bass lines. Jimmy Page continued to show off his wizardry, squeezing out every imaginable note from the guitars. Robert Plant was still in full control of his voice and reminded the audience why he remained one of the finest rock singers in the world. Jason Bonham turned in an incredible performance worthy of his father.

My breath was already taken away when I listened to the two CDs on my car audio and then through my home audio system but my admiration for the music of Led Zeppelin was complete when I finally managed to play the DVDs at home and sit through the full concert.

There was such an incredible display of power and musicianship. Staggering, considering that these were three senior-aged men - in 2007, Jimmy Page was already 64 years old, Robert Plant 60 years old, John Paul Jones 62 years old - who were joined on stage by a comparatively youthful Jason Bonham at 42 years old. Today, as I add a further five years to their ages, I continue to appreciate the music of Led Zeppelin.

So what are on the CDs and the DVDs? Basically, the same set of songs for either an audio or visual feast. You take your pick. But you get two hours of solid rock music. Sixteen songs that could be considered the cream from nine studio albums.

The concert opened with Good Times, Bad Times, which was the first song from their very first album, Led Zeppelin, and this was followed by Ramble On from Led Zeppelin II and Black Dog from their untitled fourth album. Like I mentioned earlier, Jason Bonham did a very fine job attacking the skins, ala his father.

In quick succession after a brief greeting of Good Evening from Plant, the band followed with In My Time Of Dying from Physical Graffiti, For Your Life from Presence, Trampled Under Foot from Physical Graffiti, Nobody's Fault But Mine from Presence, No Quarter from Houses Of The Holy, Since I've Been Loving You from Led Zeppelin III, Dazed And Confused from Led Zeppelin, the anthemic Stairway To Heaven from the fourth album, The Song Remains The Same from Houses Of The Holy, Misty Mountain Hop from the fourth album and Kashmir from Physical Graffiti.

There were two encores that closed the concert: their signature Whole Lotta Love from Led Zeppelin II which defined their music for me and Rock And Roll from the fourth album. Wonderful...

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