Friday, January 18, 2013

Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day

Led Zeppelin flies again in style, class, and with energized elegance befitting their status as rock star royalty.  Celebration Day, the 2 cd, 1 dvd release of their reunion concert at the Ahmet Ertegun tribute in 2007 delivers the goods, and then some.  I admit to initial surprise of enjoying it so much.  Now it's a favorite, ranking up there with any other Zeppelin release.

It's a slightly different band with a different sound than classic live Zeppelin.  Plant's voice sounds very strong and clean, not raspy, but he doesn't go for the high screaming notes like he used to.  Page still very much drives the show.  His playing and distinctive sound leads the band throughout, but his playing has changed over the years.  Not worse, just different.  His guitar playing is as  brilliant, idiosyncratic and evocative as ever.  He still favors feel over technique but sometimes rips out clusters of notes with ridiculous speed.    Page's unique rhythmic timing at times pushes and pulls the beat giving a particular tension to the music.  John Paul Jones plays as incredibly as ever, a virtuoso providing support and glue to the sound.  Jason Bonham does a spectacular job filling in for his father, the late John Bonham whom many consider one of the great rock drummers of all time.  The younger Bonham has his own style and sound, to his credit he doesn't imitate his father, but definitely holds his own with the other three.  The more I listen to him, the more I appreciate his drumming.

The dvd begins with shots of the audience in London's 02 Arena being shown old news clips of Led Zeppelin breaking the world record for concert attendance.  Then the band kicks it off with Good Times Bad Times. My first impression was that they sounded a little loose but they quickly gelled and found their groove.  It sounded fresh and real.  Just a 3 piece rock band with a singer even if they are the mighty Zeppelin.  You can hear the individual musicians looking for the pocket, as we sometimes call the groove - the musical gestalt that synergizes and transcends the separate instruments, and find it.

Ramble On, the mysterious, dynamic song from Led Zeppelin II, immediately follows.  It does have quite a dark, almost apocalyptic feeling: "Now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it's heading my way..."  The narrator's solution involves traveling, to ramble on.  At one point Page makes a gesture that suggests the radiant theurgic magick that Aleister Crowley taught.  In later songs such as Dazed and Confused and Whole Lotta Love he appears more obvious.

This doesn't sound so far-fetched when you realize that Page has been studying Crowley since the age of 15.  He has been described as one of the foremost collectors of Crowley artifacts even going so far as to purchase his old estate, known as Boleskine Manor, located on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland.  This is the house Crowley purchased with the intention of performing a 6 month ritual called the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.  This ritual promised to engender something called the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.  Unfortunately for Crowley, wordly affairs intervened and he had to terminate the operation in order to go help break up the Golden Dawn.  Still, he did a lot of magick in Boleskine.  It was at Boleskine that Jimmy Page filmed his astral sequence from the film The Song Remains the Same where he turns into the Hermit.  Page also owned an occult bookstore and publishing house called The Equinox in the 1970s.

After a short pause Plant goes into the opening lines of Black Dog, the red hot opening track from Led Zeppelin IV named after a stray dog that was around when they were recording. The band sounds incredibly tight now.  The 6 weeks of rehearsal for this one concert pays off.

In my gloriously humble opinion, Led Zeppelin IV, the album with a title of four occult sigils, contains the most Crowley related gnosis of all their releases.  Every song relates to some aspect of the hermetic path.  It can be interesting to listen to this album after making some headway with Crowley's experiments.  Things get revealed as understanding grows.  You can learn as much about Crowley's system by grokking this album as you can by reading some of his texts, perhaps more.  Black Dog accurately evokes the feeling of the ordeal described in the Book of the Law (I:50): The gross must pass through fire.

The fourth song, In My Time of Dying, highlights Page on the bottleneck-like slide guitar in this old classic blues about death.

In my time of dying, don't want nobody to moan.
All I want for you to do
Is bring my body home

Keep your eyes out for a revealing bit of stage lighting toward the end of this track.

The fifth song, For Your Life, just rocks.  This performance marks the one and only time they played it live and they certainly do it justice.  Great lighting design behind it which the director features.

Trampled Under Foot, which Plant calls Zeppelin's version of Robert Johnson's Terrapin Blues (1936) has a familiar lyrical theme with an unusual subject.  It sounds like a love song for a vehicle of some kind.

Nobody's Fault But Mine, another old blues song, covered on the Presence album has an incredibly haunting opening guitar riff, doubled by Plant.  It opens a portal into the macrodimensions (alternate worlds), for me, and thematically recalls Crowley's famous maxim from Liber 77 which should read: "There is no god but WoMan."  Plant wails bluesfully on a distorted harp on this one.

No Quarter - an extremely dark song musically and lyrically; a persevering against impossible, life or death odds kind of story.  From Led Zeppelin V, Houses of the Holy this definitely sounds like a descent into a perilous world of death and destruction: the dogs of doom they howl and moan ... for a specific purpose; the classic hero's journeyJohn Paul Jones plays superbly on this, and Bonham's kettle drum helps create the atmosphere of a Dante-flavored underworld.

The visuals of this film are very well done.   Never boring, at the same time never gimmicky or too manic with quick edits. One technique I like is when they make a smaller frame with a border, and process the image grainy so it looks like a vintage photograph.  Some concert footage cuts too fast with mostly close-ups so that you don't really see the band interacting.  Director Dick Carruthers captures a lot of interaction between the band members and thus brings an intimacy to this huge powerful spectacle.  I guess it helps if you have 16 cameras of footage to choose from.

Page has a lot of fun with Since I've Been Loving You ( Led Zeppelin III) and does an excellent job with it.  Check the great shot of him and Plant right after this song, Page is clearly having a blast.  That comes across quite a bit all throughout the concert - what a great time they're having, and also how comfortable they are up there doing what they do.  The chemistry between them clearly shows.

Near the beginning of  Since I've Been Loving You you get a good shot of Jason Bonham and the drums from his perspective.  The way the snare drum is miced is also how I usually mic them, with the same mic, the SM 57.  I also use a mic underneath the drum - couldn't see if they had one here.  The live sound mixer for the show was a guy named Big Mick who is and has been Metallica's live engineer forever.  He has mixed every concert they've ever played.

The soundtrack mix gets credited to Alan Moulder and John Catlin under Jimmy Page's supervision.
They did a good job with this especially with Plant's vocal effects which are dynamic but not overbearing or too obvious.  The audio thankfully doesn't have the over-compressed, overly bright sound that some commercial releases engaged in "loudness wars" have.  It sounds good at a low volume and rocks when turned up without becoming fatiguing to the ears.

Dazed and Confused - another descent into the underworld kind of song

(lots of people talking, 
pretty few of them know,
 soul of a woman was created below)

showcases Jimmy Page's guitar pyrotechnics and otherworldly soundscaping.  He employs what looks like a violin or cello bow to give unearthly voicings to his guitar, producing sounds like you might expect to hear in an H.P. Lovecraft story or something of that eldritch nature.  It looks at times like he's using the bow as a wand.

The eleventh song, Stairway to Heaven sounds fresh and alive in this rendition.  Good shot of Page playing his double-neck guitar as he switches from the 6 string neck to the 12 string neck, just before the first time Plant sings, "It makes me wonder." 

Watching them play, I was reminded of my encounter with Jimmy Page's mother in about 1980 and her saying that he felt Stairway to Heaven was the most important thing he'd ever done.  This happened the same night I saw a UFO.  The only reason I got to meet Mrs. Page was because the lounge singer played Stairway to Heaven the day before.  She thanked him for playing it and introduced herself.  He told us the story and we told him bring her to our set if she came back, and she did.
... a stairway lies on a whispering wind ...

The Song Remains the Same looks exceptionally good besides sounding fantastic.  Some great camera shots here.  This provides a way to connect with the energy and non-local potential of the 93 Current. Success is thy proof. (BotL)

California sunlight, sweet Calcutta rain
Honolulu Starbright - the song remains the same

After this song Plant introduces "Jason Bonham on drums;" camera cuts to Bonham standing up acknowledging; he pulls up his shirt to reveal a tattoo of the sigil his father used for the Zeppelin IV title.  A beautiful gesture, and revealing a magical link for invoking the spirit of the elder Bonham.
Misty Mountain Hop gets a trippy psychedelic treatment visually as befits the theme.  Plant introduces it with an old John Bonham story saying that he used to be in a band where he would sing Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary 400 times."

Kashmir gets epic visuals and lighting.  It does look and sound transcendent.  Lyrics worth learning.

Whole Lotta Love has a really great bardo section, or descent into the underworld spacey section.  Page plays the theremin dramatically looking like a modern hierophant transmitting signals across the Universe.

Rock and Roll - a perfect way to close it - it has been a long time but somehow hearing this song brings it right back.

This day, December 10, 2007 certainly became one of celebration.  We have Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records, to thank for all the music he brought to the world to such an extent as to get this tribute.

Found out about another version of this package that includes a second dvd with extras.  Didn't know about it when I got this one, but I'm curious to see the extras which includes rehearsals.  Some of the best musical moments happen in rehearsals when everyone is a little looser about playing.

I read that the three members of Led Zeppelin "were coy" about a reunion when they attended the opening of Celebration Day in London last fall.  I still find them a powerful force, relevant, and musically electrifying.  I believe it would do a world of good if Led Zeppelin performed one last tour.  There's still time.


  1. Both my brother and I are guitarists, and he's never been a big Zep fan, but he called me last Sunday to rave about this, which I didn't even know existed.

    I doubt if anyone anywhere will write a better review of the CD/DVD than this.

  2. Thanks, Michael! I was a huge Zeppelin fan in High School, and I was surprised by how good they did with this.

  3. It's amazing to me they haven't agreed to a final tour of the U.S. I'm sure the crowds would be enormous.

    I love the story about Jimmy Page's mom, and I appreciate his honesty in talking about the importance of the song. Robert Plant kind of downplays it in the interviews I've seen.

    What do you make of the fact that Plant has been very active in recording since the breakup of LZ, and Page has done rather little?

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  5. Tom, It seems Plant may be the hold-out. I would speculate that Plant has less interests outside of making music than Page so he always had something going with music. Page seems to pick and choose his projects more. The Unledded tour they both did some years back with an Egyptian Orchestra, and where they'd hire the local symphony in whatever city they were in was pretty spectacular. Page's band he had with Paul Rodgers for a few years was ok but not as good as Zeppelin. Maybe he knew that and decided not to try to top himself. He has stayed active supervising all of the Zeppelin archive remastering and releases