LED ZEPPELIN : "Celebration Day."
So. Here it is. Five years after the event, and the one-off Led Zeppelin reunion concert finally gets turned into the inevitable CD/DVD/Blu Ray/Box Set extravaganza. For a band renowned as legendary, how odd it is that overall, this film is not perhaps as spellbinding as the casual observer might think. The performance is solid, worthy of the bands name, and the most accurate and faithful reproduction of live Led Zep you could hope for : as well as the first 'new' Zep footage seen in 27 years. For a band that hasn't played live at all in twenty years, or performed a full length show in over 27 years, Led Zeppelin in 2007 are assured, confident, even arrogant, and capable. The show is performed reverently to their past reputation and they seem a little hesitant to their own shadow. But after a while, a thundering “Black Dog” the band soften and thaw, and lock into a groove. John Paul Jones is a human metronome, keeping the band in time and on target with a solid bass and Doorsesque, versatile keyboard sweeps. The versions of some of these songs – such as “No Quarter”, or perhaps the definitive, thundering “Kashmir” set the high watermark of timeless relevancy. And, after years of the various unofficial recordings, at last, we get the show the way Jimmy Page wanted us to see it – whether we agree with him or not.
Visually this film is post produced to within an inch of its life : there are post-event fake pans and zooms (a glaring one is far too smooth on John Paul Jones during No Quarter which is simply unnaturally smooth and precise), slow-motion is added mid shot, motion blur and fake Super 8 is added – obvious when it is from angles and shots you have seen seconds before in perfect clarity, and there is little in the way of scale. It reminds me of 70's concert films, insomuch as its all close ups and band shots, with no information as to where they are playing : it could be Any Arena, Any Town. Audience shots are sparse, at best, and where they do occur are often either a) young women who weren't born during the bands original lifetime or b) short, vague, and of shilouetted dancing females. Only during the 'going on & off stage' segments is any sense of scale communicated. The crowd, when you do see them, remain as static as chopped dead meat. It is a film of Led Zeppelin playing songs : not of a live show. At points, this frenetic editing style pulls the viewer out of the moment and into the artifice of the visual : during “Nobodys Fault But Mine”, and “In My Time Of Dying” (for example), the longest shot – of Pages fingers widdling up & down a fretboard during a solo – is six seconds long. Some of them last barely 10 frames. Perhaps this is to compensate for the band being largely static on stage : they spend a lot of time standing in a huddle on the stage facing each other, looking meaningfully for visual clues. At the same time, there are few shots of the four of them together at any one point. Few long shots of the band performing, few quiet moments. Though, more than once, the shot changes from the 'in camera' to an 'on the night screen' which is both odd and distancing and cheeky. Only once is pixellation/lack of definition obvious during a big crash/strobe drum ending of the final song.
It is also not the complete show : Bonhams blues-growl version of “I Can't Quit You Baby” is excised, as is Plant's pre-”Kashmir” speech. Audio production fixes some of Page's flubs. By and large, though, the sound is precise and accurate, though the instruments have been treated and occasionally re-processed. In all probability there are overdubs, fixes, and patches. JPJ is rapt in concentration the whole gig, Page sweats a lot and is a little fluid with a multitude of sex faces during the guitar solos. Bonham is perfect. Lots of visuals are tied to the main musical part, which means shitloads of twiddly fingers during the guitar parts, and lots of ego shots of Page in his element playing live and showing off, sweating, wiping his brow, and being a showman. Plant, as he has always insisted, narrates the musical passages, but content often to allow the music to breathe and define itself. What is also obvious is the lack of singularly classic rock numbers here – name four instant Zep classics and you probably have the lot : the rest, including deep cuts such as the never-before-played “For Your Life” are the kind that exist more as rock perennials and not big hit singles as such. But what next? By the time “Kashmir” pummels the audience into nothing so much as utter relevancy for this time and place in human history, and the encores of “Whole Lotta Love” and the final “Rock N Roll”, Zep – have done it : they pulled off the highest stake, single-shot, last chance death or glory attempt at utter permanence and immortality with a show equal of any expectations given of them. A fitting funeral.