5 Years Ago: Led Zeppelin Reunite for 02 Concert
The past five years have been incredibly fruitful for Led Zeppelin after decades of inactivity. This year alone, the hard rock icons have announced a new reissue campaign, received the Kennedy Center Honors, and released the live CD/DVD package, ‘Celebration Day,’ which features the band’s heavily anticipated reunion performance at the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert on Dec. 10, 2007. Perhaps it’s only a side-effect of this recent Zeppelin whiplash, but it’s crazy to think it’s been five whole years.
In reality, ‘heavily anticipated’ is putting it mildly. Since John Bonham’s death in 1980 and the band’s subsequent break-up, Zeppelin’s three surviving members (guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones) had reunited on a handful of occasions, but the results were always less than stellar. Their brief set at 1985′s Live Aid (featuring Phil Collins on drums) was a total disaster, ruined by Plant’s strained vocals and Page’s fumbling, out-of-tune guitar. The trio joined forces with Neil Young and Aerosmith at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1995, but the performance was musically and socially awkward (accepting the award, Jones remarked, ‘Thank you, my friends, for finally remembering my phone number,’ referencing a recent Page-Plant tour).
Needless to say, the stakes were high for this reunion performance at London’s O2 Arena. Fans, critics, and probably the band members themselves viewed the concert as their on-stage swan song. The demand for tickets was immediate and jaw-dropping: The 20,000 or so available tickets were sold through an online lottery system, with one million people registering (and subsequently crashing the event’s website).
The remaining Zeppelin trio brought along drummer Jason Bonham (Bonzo’s son, who’d previously played with the band in 1988 at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert), blaring through a 16-track set that ranged from early psychedelic-blues (‘Dazed and Confused’) to hard-hitting mid-period classics (‘In My Time of Dying,’ ‘Rock and Roll’) to more obscure later-day gems (‘For Your Life,’ ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’). There were hiccups — Page’s muddy guitar tone on ‘Ramble On,’ Page fumbling through ‘Black Dog’ — but the highlights (‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ‘Kashmir’) were downright bone-chilling, proving that even B-plus Zeppelin still dwarfs pretty much every other rock band on the planet.
Although both Page and Jones have both expressed interest in a possible full reunion tour, Plant has been adamantly against the idea in interviews. Speaking to Rolling Stone, Page commented, “[Plant was busy] doing his Alison Krauss project. I wasn’t fully aware it was going to be launched at the same time. So what do you do in a situation like that? I’d been working with the other two guys for the percentage of the rehearsals at the O2. We were connecting well. The weakness was that none of us sang.”
The Zeppelin boys have managed to keep busy since the O2 concert: Plant did release an album with Krauss (2007′s ‘Raising Sand’) as well as a self-titled 2010 album with Band of Joy; Page, when not remastering the band’s back catalog, has written an autobiography and made a handful of one-off stage appearances (including a performance of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with Leona Lewis at the 2008 Olympics); Jones, meanwhile, has been the most musically active, forming the hard-rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Josh Homme and Dave Grohl, collaborating with Glen Phillips and bluegrass stars Nickel Creek in the Mutual Admiration Society, and produced fiddler Sara Watkins’ debut solo album in 2008.
While the possibilities of a full reunion still seem bleak, it’s unlikely Zeppelin purists will stop dreaming that dream any time soon. If it never happens, at least we have the memory of this wonderful gig (now immortalized on ‘Celebration Day’) as a late-day souvenir.