There is a brief video intro that includes footage of how Zeppelin went on to beat the Beatles in ticket sales, and as we were watching this vintage footage, the opening riffs of Zeppelin’s first song off the first album filled the arena with an unbelievable sound. Zeppelin seemed to appear out of nowhere, and there they were, finally, after all of this time, right in front of us. The tight coordination of the bass, guitar and drums, followed by Bonham’s high stick tricks brought us all back to the reasons why we managed the journey to get to the arena that night. Fans around me were ecstatic and relieved, hugging each other, high fiving, saying, “It was all worth it!” after the just first few notes of this great song.
They went right in to “Ramble On, ” which is one of my favorite songs. I love the end of the studio version where Plant says he’s “looking for my bluebird.” He ended this live version by saying, “I gotta feelin in my mind…” The version had more of a blues feel to me, and the refrains were more powerful.
There was a lot of talk about Black Dog, which was the next song that they played. Most of us following Robert’s solo career were getting used to him rearranging the song, especially the recent versions with the Strange Sensation. But this version was right off the album, not needing any help from the “Mighty Rearranger,” Plant wailed on it, with the traditional stopping points to include the back and forth moans from the crowd.
After this song, he stopped for a brief, “Good Evening” to the crowd. You would have thought he told us we won millions in the lottery, the cheering; the euphoria. Well, we all felt very lucky to be there and to have Plant address us. He kept his comments brief and poignant throughout the night. Not much time spent on “Plantations.”
A lot of folks in the crowd were actually seated during some parts of the show. Seated during a Zeppelin show? A woman I met on the plane on the way back, from Boston, said that a American woman had complained to security that she was standing up too frequently and blocking her view. She attributed it to being in England, she guessed, where people are more reserved. But the woman who complained turned out to be an American !! This woman had good seats, though, in the 100’s, center stage. I, on the other hand, had the equivalent of “bleacher” seats in the 400’s, left of the stage. Sitting next to me, were none other than two guys from Boston who currently live in Portsmouth, NH. In front of them were two folks who asked me where I was from in Mass. “Uh, a little town near Umass, Amherst.” They said, “Oh, we are originally from Shutesbury!” Behind us were a bunch of guys from New York. When they found out where we were from, one guy screeched, “I fly halfway across the *@# globe to see Zeppelin and I get stuck sitting behind Red Sox fans!!” Then they were teasing us that something had happened to Tom Brady this weekend and we didn’t know about it because we were out of touch with the news. I piped in that Brady was fine, having heard the Pats were still undefeated from the night before. Next to me was a kind English couple who did not stand up or get out of their seats, but they were drinking so much that by this third Zeppelin song, the woman had completely passed out. Her husband just patted the poor her soul on the head for the rest of the show.
In our area, we could see everything happening to the left of the stage and some backstage. There was a private dinner party going on backstage with white glove service before the show that quickly dispersed when Zeppelin came on. There was a light that shown only on the left side of the backstage area that had a larger than life sized projection of The Hermit. We had binoculars, so we could zoom down and see the set list. We were trying to guess which songs would come next given the length of the titles written.
Physical Graffiti is my favorite album. I told some people who were in the standing area on the floor to look up if they played Ten Years Gone, because I would certainly be falling from the rafters after passing out. Well, they didn’t play Ten Years Gone, but when I heard the opening riffs of “In My Time of Dying” I had to sit down in shock and amazement. It was during this time that I didn’t care about where my assigned seat was and made my way down to the stairwell to get a closer look. The security up in the 400’s were themselves sitting on the stairs, watching the show. The culture in our area, maybe because our seats were so bad, was anything goes, so I could make my way to different areas of the stadium and met more people jammin out, dancing around, singing, playing air guitar, air drums, there was no sitting, we were all in flight! I found a spot that had a clear side view of the stage, unobstructed, which made for some interesting insights throughout the night. At the end of In My Time of Dying, Plant called out, “I hear a buzzing, sounds like a mother bee, oh my Jesus … “ He stopped just short of the classic, “Oh don’t you make it my dying, dying, dying…cough.” I bet he knew we were all thinking it.
Plant introduced the next song as one they had never played live before. Having read up on the show in the weeks before, I knew it was the second song off Presence, “For Your Life.” I have the album on vinyl and went out and bought it on CD. I must admit, it wasn’t one of my favorite songs, but I remember Jimmy saying during a recent interview that the song was special to them because it was difficult in establishing the time and it was “intense.” OK, so I trusted him and kept listening to the song, growing on me a bit, but not exactly my favorite. Well, when For Your Life opened, the entire arena exploded with white light. The crowd was taken by complete surprise by how powerful this song really is. In fact, someone next to me said exactly that, “I’m surprised at how great this is.” Jimmy did a long almost psychedelic solo, and he was right, the intense timing of the song delivered great energy. Also, the way they played it live, backed with the creative light and sound effects, gave it a contemporary edge.
Plant, versed in his history of blues, announced the next song paying homage to Robert Johnson, Terraplane Blues, 1936. He said their version was called, Trampled Underfoot.” And so we were !
He paid similar respect to the Staple Singers and the Blind Boys from Alabama when he introduced “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” I had seen the Blind Boys open up for Peter Gabriel in 2002. They grabbed your attention and didn’t let go. Jimmy’s guitar was loud, Plant was hot on the harp. The fans were looking left, looking right, pointing to themselves, getting all gospel on each other as they were singing along. They definitely brought us to Church, the Church in the house of blues.
So now that we were completely wound up, the quiet opening organ notes of John Paul Jones began “No Quarter.” I looked to my neighbor and said, “We better sit down for this one.” He had been using my binoculars and I politely asked for them back. Slowly, the stage filled with smoke, and the band, as well as the crowd, were transported to a trance-like state. This was Jones at his best. In an elegant black suit jacket with a subtle sparkle design, he was understated in presenting his brilliance. I was right above Jones, and from where I was sitting, he seemed to play the middle piece in a higher key which made the notes sound almost like a steel drum at times. It was beautiful. And he made it look effortless. This, contrasted with Page’s guitar, was a remarkable contrast in sounds that kept us at the edge of our seats. I was about to cry. This was music history. Electric magick.
More? You mean there is more? Yes, “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. Robert wailed. Lots of people were worried about the “age factor” in their performance, age factor, what age factor?
Dazed and Confused. We anticipated this classic, and it did not disappoint. Jimmy played it with style and brilliance. He shocked and delighted us with the bow, while being surrounded with a green pyramid of light. I just took a deep breath and watched, it was surreal, moving, and music history continued to evolve. When the song sped up, I watched Page, Plant and Jones, move in toward Jason to collaborate on their tempo. This reminded me of reading about how Jimmy used to cue Bonzo by quickly lifting his hand while playing and that was their way of pacing each other.
Stairway to Heaven. Everyone sang along and paid homage to this hit. Most Zeppelin fans understand that the band might be tired of playing it and we can even be OK not to hear it. It is a classic though, the most recognized rock song in history, and they played it beautifully. I zoomed in on Jimmy and Robert and Jimmy was smiling so warmly during his solo, turning to Robert. They seemed so comfortable playing it. Lighters and cellphones went on, there was a peacefulness and feeling of familiarity that came across the stadium. I was glad they played it.
After this, Robert belted out as he looked up, “Hey Ahmet, We did it!” In that comment, I could sense that they were truly grieving their mentor and this was a very special tribute, indeed. They quickly changed tempo and blasted out “The Song Remains the Same.”
At some point I looked at my watch, it was only 10:30. I showed my neighbors, they were thrilled, “only 10:30 !” We knew the show would end at 11pm, and we were already so impressed and excited about what we’d already heard. How could it get better than this?
Plant broke to give some attention to Jason Bonham. He told sweet stories of Jason’s childhood, how he used to try to sing and how his parents would play Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary.” They asked him to sing a few bars of something and he belted out, “I can’t quit you babe!” It was a sweet moment, almost a family snapshot. Sentimental, yes, then they blasted us into “Misty Mountain Hop” and I have to say, from that point on, we were transformed, the crowd was loose and moving around, myself included, unaware of anything else that was happening anywhere but in that stadium, in that moment.
Plant then surprised us by a stating a reference to a Morrison phrase, “Out here in the perimeter there are no stars …” Yes, we were out there in the perimeter … But he continued, in his globally philosophical way, “out here in the perimeter, there are people here from 52 countries.” Wow, can’t believe he said that, says my neighbor … whoops, no time to think … and catapulted us out of the stadium into Kashmir. In my corner of the O2 world, this song had the greatest response. I don’t remember seeing anyone in their seat. We were all moving, rocking, people were hugging each other, giving high fives. I think this song was the highlight of the show. It was Zeppelin, as Jimmy says, “properly presented” the way that it should be. There is no other.
After it was over, Robert politely thanked us for coming and said a few warm words for Ahmet. The crowd did not move, expect for the folks that had to catch long trains, they made their way to the back entrance, but didn’t leave the stadium. We knew they’d come back, and they did. That classic was followed by Whole Lotta Love. It was the full experience, the psychedelic lights, Jimmy used his bow again. Robert moaning. Robert kicked the mike stand down. The three were in rhythm center stage, it was almost choreographed. At 11:10, they quickly returned again for Rock n Roll and it was just a fun, party type atmosphere of joy and relief. A perfect ending to a perfect journey.
There woman who was crying at the end of the show, “I knew I’d feel this way when it was over, I can’t believe it is over… I want it to last forever,” she said. All I could say to her was to be grateful that we are here and to enjoy the moment and the memories for this special time.
It was a privilege to be there, everything I dreamed it would be. And ironically, on my plane ride home, I sat next to a couple from Istanbul, Turkey, who knew Ahmet Ertegun’s father, Mehmet Munir Ertegun. “He was a big jazz fan” the man said. And so we toasted to the late, great, Ahmet Ertegun with Turkish cheers !!
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