Led Zeppelin at the 02 Arena in London – Photos and Review
Now that Led Zeppelin has confirmed they will release a concert film of their historic 2007 reunion concert at London’s O2 arena, we reached out to journalist and photographer Mark Bowman, one of the select few lucky enough to attend this historic occurrence in person, to provide his review, recollections and photos from the event.
Your challenge, and we barely passed this test ourselves, is not to let your jealousy overcome you enough to wish harm upon Mr. Bowman for experiencing such a wonderful evening. Good luck!
“I get the message the day before the gig: “Meet Jimmy Page’s family underneath the famous Big Ben’ clock tower on the River Thames. There will be a charter boat on the Westminster docks in London on Dec. 10, 2007 at 5:30 PM for a one and a half hour “River Thames Charter Cruise” as we head to the O2 Arena to witness the re-birth of what many on the planet consider the quintessential rock band of all time, Led Zeppelin.”
This story starts almost 25 years earlier when, as a local rock photographer in Texas and after being published in Texas Monthly and Rolling Stone, I became friends with Ronnie Lane, the late, great bassist of the Faces, when he moved to Texas to get an American branch of ARMS started to help deal with the MS that would eventually take his life. Ronnie introduced me to many of his friends. One of the most warm and endearing of these personalities would be none other than Jimmy Page.
Ronnie and Jimmy both liked my photography of the then-recent ARMS concerts that saw Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Mr. Page playing together on the same stage for the first time. Jimmy clearly thought the world of Ronnie (much of Zeppelin’s 1975 double-album ‘Physical Graffiti’ was recorded in Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio) and would call me from time to time to check on Ronnie and his well being. It’s amazing that the media has painted such an incorrect picture of this man for decades now. Jimmy Page, in my opinion, is one of the most intelligent, articulate and caring people I have ever met in my life. To prove the point, as he nears of one of the biggest nights of his life, he still remembers to invite me, Lane’s former butler, James “Bucks” Burnett and our wives to witness the big shindig in London. Now that’s what I call a true friend.
So we find ourselves in London, starting a very special evening on a river cruise to the O2 Arena hosted by Jimmy’s family, headed by the lovely Jimena Page and their beautiful children and Brian May, the lead guitarist for Queen. Once inside the arena, the opening strains of ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ were heard from Keith Emerson and members of Bad Company and Yes. Before the Zeppelin set, short sets were rendered by Paul Rodgers, Foreigner, and Paolo Nutini with Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings providing stellar backup before culminating in a magnificent two-hour set by Led Zeppelin.
There were recognizable faces everywhere in the crowd, and I personally saw and visited with such luminaries as Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin’s sound engineer), Randy Johnson, Dave Grohl, Chad Smith, Ann Wilson, Beck, Brian May, Jeff Beck, Juliette Lewis, Marilyn Manson, Warren Haynes, Richard Cole (ex-Zep road manager), Chris Slade, Dave Mustaine, James (JY) Young of Styx, Ben Harper, Laura Dern, and B.P. Fallon (ex-Zeppelin publicist) hanging around in the crowd and gathering in the foyer showing respect and deference to a band that we all have held dear to our hearts. (Editor’s note: we’re giving up on adding artist links to all of these names now, we hope you understand.)
Additionally, well ensconced in the in the O2 Arena were the likes of Paul McCartney, David Gilmour, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Mick Jagger — all on hand to witness if the mighty Zep could pull off the “gig of the century.” No pressure, eh?
The Zeppelin set started via ‘Good Times, Bad Times,’ with the crowd going ballistic at finally hearing the band kicking into gear for their first full set since 1980. The video cameras were omnipresent and documented every moment. They moved into the familiar arrangement of ‘Ramble On,’ followed by a faithful rendering of ‘Black Dog’ with Jimmy’s trademark Les Paul slung low. Jason Bonham was in fine form filling in for his father, as well as his mentors John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, fully realizing their advertised potential in a well-rehearsed set that definitely replicated the feel of a mid-’70s Zeppelin show.
Page then moved into a slow, snaky version of ‘In My Time Of Dying’ (playing a new beautiful blonde Gibson with P-90’s replacing the Danelectro), whipping the song into a full frenzy with his slide work. The band then played ‘For Your Life’ from the ‘Presence’ album for the first time ever live, and the song and arrangement absolutely cooked. They next kicked into ‘Trampled Underfoot,’ with Jonesey laying down some very rhythmic and pulsing keyboard riffs to guide the engine-like rhythms of the tune. The familiar strains of ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ filled the hall next, with Plant vocally mimicking every riff and fill Page played during the song.
The band shifted into the another gear for the next four songs, leaving the crowd with their mouths hanging open. A slow, moody ‘No Quarter’ (complete with the requisite fog machine mist rolling across the stage) supplemented with a terse, tight solo from Page was followed by a smoking version of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ with the guitar hero going into a solo frenzy that was clean and very well articulated. Plant then introduced a tune that “needs to be played this night” as the first lines of ‘Dazed and Confused’ pounded through the O2.
The next mystery of the night was solved when Page started to play the intro to ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ a song Plant has consistently refused to sing for decades. It was a very faithful rendition, with a clean and concise guitar solo building to that most ultimate of climaxes. Page kept the double neck Gibson on and started the jubilant strains of ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ kicking the energy level of the arena to a new level. They followed with a very cool, rollicking version of ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and closed the set with a stunning, jaw-dropping version of ‘Kashmir.’ The final song was perfectly mixed, with Jonesey’s keyboards really laying a foundation that supported the other three musicians layering of tones and textures. It’s hard to imagine the song has EVER been played better live.
Led Zeppelin left the stage to an absolute roar, quickly returning for a spot-on version of ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ staying close to the ‘Led Zeppelin II’ album arrangement, complete with the accurate middle section and a blistering solo from Page on his Transperformance Auto Tuning Les Paul that kicked the song into its ultimate conclusion. Then they left and returned one last time for a show close of ‘Rock And Roll’ with the three original members standing with their backs to the crowd, watching Jason do the final, powerful drum roll devised by his father. They walked off the stage with Plant leading the way as a huge Led Zeppelin logo illuminated on the massive video screens behind them. Even Paul McCartney was spotted completely rocking out to the last song, waving his arms and jumping up and down like a teenager. Come to think of it … we ALL were.
The lights came up and it was over. When we cleared the arena, it was as if people were being transported out on a cloud. The buzz in the air was palpable. The people lucky enough to have backstage passes were then guided to a huge bar area that saw the majority of the celebrities appear and have a wonderful time sharing the experience and exchanging their perspectives on the show. The after-show crowd milled around until the wee hours of the morning, with even John Paul Jones and a beaming Jason Bonham coming up to hang out and bask in the aftermath and glow of a job really well done. Pat Bonham (Bonzo’s wife) mentioned to me that “Jason really made his father proud tonight — I don’t think another drummer could have done it properly, except for Jason, but then again, I’m biased.” What a lovely moment from an extremely proud mother.
The thing that stood out so poignantly was the band’s grace and humility during the two-hour set. The fire was certainly there in this particular lineup – Jason Bonham so ably filling in for this father, the rock solid foundation from John Paul Jones, both on bass and keyboards, the extremely intense, yet contained vocals from Robert Plant, and the master craftsmanship in the selection of riffs and fills from Jimmy Page. He especially seemed to be ready at the helm with an array of choices to be made at any solo break, allowing him to immediately sculpture and shape a song at a moment’s notice. From a personal perspective, I could not have been any more proud of my friend and I witnessed it with my own eyes. He had one chance to get it right with the entire world watching and he pulled it off magnificently. It was one of the greatest nights of my life, to be sure.
The band was extremely tight, the sound was great and the vibe in the air was unparalleled, making this unique show one that truly lived up to all the hype and exceeded in the most triumphant ways. It would be a shame to not keep this juggernaut on the road and share these moments with the millions that have been denied the chance to see their heroes live for maybe the first and last time ever.”
Led Zeppelin, O2 Arena, London, Dec. 10, 2007 Setlist:
‘Good Times Bad Times’
‘In My Time of Dying’
‘For Your Life’
‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’
‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’
‘Dazed and Confused’
‘Stairway to Heaven’
‘The Song Remains the Same’
‘Misty Mountain Hop’
‘Whole Lotta Love’
‘Rock and Roll’