Barring some indifferent sound mixing and a less than molten performance around a third of the way into this two-hour plus set, the return of Led Zeppelin ranks as one of the great rock comebacks in modern times.
All right, so Robert Plant does not have quite the vocal range that helped propel the band in the 1970s to all-time great rock act status — he is 59 — and at times John Paul Jones’ keyboards sounded less than dexterous, but overall this was a thrilling night that comfortably laid to rest the ghost of Zep’s lackluster perf at Live Aid in 1985.
On drums John Bonham’s son Jason, a burly 41-year-old, was incendiary and almost the equal of his dad; on “Whole Lotta Love” he may have been even better than his old man.
Meanwhile, a white-haired Jimmy Page, nattily turned out in three-quarter-length coat, reminded auds that he is a thrilling and uniquely inventive guitarist. Overall, the band played more economically than in its glory days; even “Dazed and Confused,” complete with Page sending waves of eerie sounds across the arena courtesy of the inevitable violin bow, was executed with relative tightness.
From the first blistering solo on the opening “Good Times Bad Times,” through to the triumphant encores of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock and Roll,” Page’s upper register work, wrought from his trademark sunburst Les Paul, was razor sharp, an electric firestorm that sent the ecstatic crowd straight to guitar hero heaven.
The only time Page seemed in less than top form was during what was, frankly, a so-so reading of “Stairway to Heaven.” This was perhaps hardly a surprise. The number has become such a cliche of a bygone, overblown era that the band seemed somewhat embarrassed at having to play it. That Plant was seen appearing to read the lyrics from a prompter screen only added to the impression that these days, “Stairway to Heaven” is considered less than celestial by the band, especially by Plant himself.
Once the song was dispatched, Zeppelin was able to relax into a tighter, tougher groove as it stormed through dazzling versions of “Misty Mountain Hop” and, best of the night, a monumental “Kashmir,” by itself worth the hefty ticket price.
Throughout Plant was a charismatic, if sometimes oddly self-effacing frontman, more restrained than of yore, and, given his age, all the better for it. Good, too, to hear him acknowledging the music’s blues roots as he gave credits to Robert Johnson (as the inspiration for “Trampled Underfoot”) and Blind Willie Johnson, writer of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”
Plenty of thought and imagination went into the light show and other wondrous stage projections that accompanied the perf. Newsreel footage of the then-fresh-faced band members arriving for an early American tour, which was screened before they took the stage, was a nice touch. Staged as a memorial to Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, perf’s glowing reception may give the quartet the confidence to embark an another trek in the near future. On this evidence, such a visit would be a glorious return.