I’ve just got home from the Dome and the Led Zeppelin gig, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for the fact that my thoughts aren’t quite as neatly organised as usual. First off, I have to point out that, at the risk of sounding smug, they were fucking great.
I’ve been listening again to those ‘90s records recently (the “No Quarter” set, the “ Clarksdale” album, Jimmy Page’s album with The Black Crowes), and my biggest fear before the show starts is not – as rumours suggest – that Robert Plant won’t be able to handle the vocal gymnastics, but that Page will smudge the dextrous flurries that his astonishing songs demand.
Initially, it seemed like this might be the case. Led Zeppelin begin with “Good Times Bad Times”, then a slowed version of “Ramble On”, and Page’s playing seems muddy, unresolved, lacking the brute delicacy that the songs demand. Plant is magisterial, throwing his mic stand around with an unlikely kind of dignity, but it’s hard to tell whether Page – his spirit brother-cum-nemesis – is playing badly, or whether the sound is corrupting his efforts.
Song three, though, suggests it’s the mixers coming to terms with the venue. “Black Dog” is quite brilliant, and it’s striking how much Page is better suited to that glottal, elemental take on the blues than the more baroque excesses of some of his material. “In My Time Of Dying”, with some fantastic slide, compounds this idea that his gifts now are focused at the raw, rather than at the progressive, end of his spectrum. If The White Stripes were ever to come clean and cover a Zep song, it strikes me that this should be the one.
As the show progresses, though, Page comes into his own, and the sort of songs I thought they’d never play – “Trampled Underfoot”, “The Song Remains The Same” – are quite superb. On the former, John Paul Jones at the keyboards comes out of his shell, while Plant manages to come across like the golden god of yore, while still retaining an implausible decorousness. There’s a great moment during “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (part of an expansive mid-section which includes “Dazed And Confused”, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and a wonderful “No Quarter”) when Plant stands cross-legged looking quizzically, ostentatiously at Page as he solos.
It’s an unlikely moment of approval from Plant, who’s seemed the least needy of the original band prior to the gig – he has an excellent solo career to cultivate, after all (and sadly there’s no “Battle Of Evermore” and Alison Krauss, as some of us hoped). I blogged a couple of months ago about “Raising Sand” and said something about how the more reserved R&B/country stuff was what Plant should stick with nowadays. After tonight, though, I think I was wrong; his voice can still pull off this thunderous schtick, with such soul and guts that the high frequency ululations (there’s no “Immigrant Song”} aren’t missed at all.
I may be raving now, and I should go to bed. But I should also note that “Stairway To Heaven” is reclaimed from that world of cliche in which it has existed for over three decades, and that Page dusts down the doubleneck for it. He also gets out the e-bow for “Dazed”, showcased in a laser pyramid for his impressively avant-garde solo.
Jason Bonham looks like he should be in a nu-metal band, but does just fine. “Misty Mountain Hop” manages, inconceivably, to make the Dome feel psychedelic. Greg Dyke and Marilyn Manson – plus bouncer and girlfriend – seem to be enjoying themselves nearby. My wife keeps texting from the other side of the arena, convinced Martin O’Neill is sat in front of her. Kevin Shields is here. Men from America, mainly, are calling for catheters whenever I go to the bogs.
“Kashmir” induces me, not for the first time, to write the word “imperious” in my notebook. “Whole Lotta Love” is preposterously overdriven. I may be a little tired, and not completely in control of my tenses. Three things though, before I call it a night: one, this whole business was better than I could ever have imagined; two, they’d better do it all again next year for the benefit of the rest of you; and three, I’ll write something more coherent in the next issue of Uncut, out in the first week of January. I suspect, though, that Farah will have plenty more news to post tomorrow (Tuesday December 11), so don’t be a stranger. . .