CELEBRATION DAY directed by Dick Carruthers (UK, 2012)
This two-hour concert movie was recorded at Led Zeppelin’s one-off show at London’s O2 Arena on 10th December 2007.
This was staged almost one year to the day after the death of the founder of Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun. Proceeds from the concert went to Artegun’s Education Fund which sets out to provide music scholarships to gifted children.
I arrived late for the cinema screening (“for one night only”) without pre-booking and was highly fortunate to get the last ticket. I felt almost as pumped up as if I was seeing the band in the flesh and the atmosphere in the movie house made this a memorable way to experience their timeless music.
It brought back to mind the time I saw the group in concert in 1975 on one of the five sell-out shows at Earls Court soon after the release of their last great album Physical Graffiti.
The set list for that show was actually quite similar to the one for the O2 spectacular. The most significant differences are that there was no Whole Lotta Love in ’75 and no Moby Dick in 2007. The former was a pity, the latter is a relief. Extended drum solos are generally boring and, brilliant though John Bonham was, his 20 minute star turn was quite tedious.
Rumour has it that solos like this, and Page’s workout on Dazed And Confused, were popular with the rest of the band as it gave them chance to go backstage for a fag and a shag. Maybe they are too long in the tooth for antics like this these days!
A friend (much younger than me) who I met at the cinema show commented on how many old guys were in the audience. He seemed to forget that the average age of the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin is now 66. Spring chickens they are not.
Jimmy Page still plays a mean guitar even though he is now a silver-haired gurner with teeth that are either false or the result of some top of the range dental treatment. Bassist John Paul-Jones is a suave and elegant steadying influence while Robert Plant still has the charisma to demonstrate why he is the greatest rock singer of all time. In place of John Bonham is his beefy son Jason who has inherited his father’s muscular drumming technique.
The movie doesn’t have to do more than capture the group’s unique chemistry on stage and it does this very effectively. These are four men who are so completely tuned in and turned on by each other that watching them feed off one another’s creative energies is thrilling. In a press conference, Page called their relationship a type of ‘communion’.
My main criticism of the film is that while Caruthers deliberately chose to exclude lingering shots of the audience (which is ok) he then departs from his own rule by selecting numerous shots of attractive young women (which just looks a bit lecherous).
However, right from the opening chords of Good Times, Bad Times (which was also the first song from their first album) you know this is going to be something special. By the time it all ended with the second encore of Rock And Roll it struck me that the music business and music making has changed so much since the 1970s that we will never see their like again.
High points are a phenomenal version of In My Time Of Dying and a towering rendition of Kashmir which closed the show (before encores) on a genuine high. Plant may not quite be able to hit the screamo notes for the finale of Stairway To Heaven but his incredible vocals on Kasmir are enough to dispel any doubts that his lungs remain as golden as his curls.
They were and are the definitive rock band and if, as seems probable, this was their last ever show, they have certainly gone out on a high and left a fitting legacy that the world can celebrate.