Director: Dick Carruthers
I went into Celebration Day with equal parts excitement and apprehension.
I’ve been a Zeppelin fan, and, really, a music fan, since my dad first played Led Zeppelin II for me in the truck on the way home from one of many hockey practices; back when I was young enough to believe that a rabbit came to my house once a year to shit chocolate all over my floor, and that I should eat it. I didn’t know what rock music really was at the time, but I instantly became a convert. That night I put the album into my boombox, threw my MC Hammer albums in a shoebox, and never looked back.
Suffice to say that the thought of seeing Led Zeppelin today, a band that had so much influence on my musical upbringing, was perhaps a little worrisome. Especially when considering the performances I’d seen from other major bands of the era, trying to recapture their old glory days with less-than-stellar results, but making a buck or two regardless. You know who you are, The Rolling Stones. I understand that money talks, and that the ’70s were a million years ago, and alimony is a killer, and gas isn’t getting any less expensive, but I paid $90 to see you guys at the Air Canada Centre or somewhere equally vast and impersonal, and you were 45 minutes late, Mick’s voice was (understandably) shot to shit, and Keith Richards was effectively dead. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved. Your fans feel jilted and it needs to stop.
But I digress.
My feelings about geriatrics and reunion shows aside, there are some key differences with regards to Celebration Day. First, Celebration Day was not a Led Zeppelin reunion show, but rather the Led Zeppelin reunion show. It took place on December 10th, 2007 at the O2 Arena in London, and if you were one of the 20 thousand out of a reported 20 million people who registered online and got a ticket, you were a lucky dog, because it was the last time anyone would see all the original living members of the greatest rock band of all-time perform on stage together. No long, drawn-out tour, even though they could have effectively turned themselves into a perpetual money spinner and no one would have blinked. This concert was meant to be one last hurrah for Zeppelin fans, and a tribute to Ahmet Ertegun – founder of Atlantic Records, back when record labels were things that meant something.
Secondly, Celebration Day is not just a concert, but a concert formatted into a feature film, directed by Dick Carruthers. Carruthers has directed a plethora of music documentaries, includingThe White Stripes: Under Blackpool Lights, one of my all-time favourite concerts, and The Killers: Live from the Royal Albert Hall, which, despite my lack of interest in The Killers, was beautifully produced, and something that you and your high-school girlfriend might enjoy dry-humping to sometime. Christmas is around the corner…
Again, I digress.
As Celebration Day is a limited-time offering, playing only at select theatres, I jumped on the first showing in AVX that I could find, which happened to be a midnight show at the Colossus in Woodbridge, of all places. I only venture north of Steeles for funerals and other family events I can’t negotiate my way out of, so at the very least I needed this to not suck, or I’d face a long, lonely, miserable ride back to civilization. I took my seat between two guys named Vito and settled in.
Right off the bat, I see Robert Plant and can’t help but feel slightly nervous. If his voice has held up in any way like his appearance, this was going to be a long night. But halfway through ‘Good Times Bad Times’ and into ‘Ramble On’, it appears that, while Mr. Plant now resembles someone who spends his afternoons shouting in the feminine hygiene aisle, his voice is still respectable. Obviously it’s not what it was in 1969, nor should it be, but it wasn’t tragic either. To his credit, Plant seems aware of his age and doesn’t strain his pipes or expose his navel at any point. That being said, this is still Robert Plant: the stage prowl, the charisma, the way he interacts with the crowd and his band; it’s all there, but only at half speed.
As for the rest of the band, it sounds as if they’ve been practicing together since they broke-up in the ’80s. Jimmy Page is still a wizard, and now has a full crop of silver locks to complete the illusion, effortlessly coaxing signature wails and moans from the strings of his Les Paul. John Paul Jones takes his usual position in the background, behind keys or the bass. But on the plus side, JPJ appears to have aged far more gracefully than his counterparts; adding some credence to my theory that he stayed back at the hotel and read books all those years while the others were out getting laid. Finally, Jason Bonham does an admirable job filling in for his late father on the drums and even lends backing vocals to ‘Misty Mountain Hop’.
The band tried to include all the must-haves onto the setlist, but when you have ten albums and dozens of hits, there will be some omissions. ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘Kashmir’, for whatever reason, sounded the best to me, and generally the guys leaned toward more of their bluesier stuff; possibly because it suited Plant’s aged pipes a little better. The set they played was in-tune with my sensibilities, but there were some glaring omissions that stirred the ire of the Vitos. Not to worry though, they played ‘Stairway’.
Seeing a concert on a movie screen was a little jarring at first, as I had to resist the urge to clap at the end of the first few songs. Some fellow patrons did not bother to make any distinction, which could speak to the true-to-live quality of the production, or to something else entirely. But I’ve done enough Woodbridge-bashing for one day. Still, the camerawork was tight and the transitions were seamless, giving the viewer enough time to admire each member of the band before moving on. There was a filter used intermittently throughout the film that blurred the shot, giving it that kind of grainy, ’70s feel you’d recognize if you’ve ever seen The Song Remains the Same. The sea of cell phones detracts from the illusion, but it was a nice touch. Most importantly, any concerns I had about the sound not being up to snuff were unfounded. It was clear, and loud enough without being deafening. One of the Vitos mentioned that he had seen a non-AVX screening that wasn’t loud enough. I can’t confirm this, but if you plan on going, I would pony-up the extra couple of bucks for the digital sound and picture, as well as the ability to reserve your seats ahead of time.
Celebration Day provided me with what I wanted/could reasonably expect as a Led Zeppelin fan in 2012. It was a two-hour, nostalgia-fueled escape for the over-forty crowd, and an opportunity for younger fans to catch a quasi-live glimpse of the band that was shaping the music they grew up with well before they were even born. The soundtrack and the film itself will be released on November 19, on CD, DVD, and I can only assume on Blu-Ray as well. While none of these options will disappoint the Zeppelin lover, I feel like next to being there live in London, the theatre experience will give you the greatest sense of what it must have been like to watch that legendary band take the stage for the final time.