JOURNEY TO ZEPYLON
My Experience of Led Zeppelin in London
Upon returning from England I have repeatedly been faced with the same cheerful but impossible question to answer; 'so how was the concert?' I usually can't say much in response. It's like trying to describe a really great acid trip to a Republican, or fantastic sex to a virgin. Seeing Led Zeppelin live again, in London, in 2007, is simply a hard thing to describe. Not because it was too good for words, but because it was too good to be true. I last saw the band in 1977, and have spent the past 3o years (a very very long time) not waiting to see them again, hoping against hope, but believing I never would see them again. So when I was notified a few days ahead of the rest of the world that the impossible was dropping the im, I was utterly shocked. How could this possibly be? Rather than waste time trying to figure out how this was happening, I instead phoned British Airways and asked if I might reserve a jet for two. "I have to be in England Nov. 26th." "Very well, sir, Visa or Mastercard?" "What the hell, let's make it Visa." Debt Zeppelin rides again.
But of course 20,000 people did something else on Nov. 26th, which is now a famous day for turning out to be quite ordinary. Instead, the honors went to Monday December 10th, and millions of dollars were spent by people telling hotels and airlines they'd changed their minds after all. British Airways charged me $220 for about 2 minutes work. It's a nice future if you live there. Jimmy Page, as it turns out, does indeed have the world wrapped around his finger, at least when it's broken. So we went to England, my wife and I, for a different kind of holiday. The Mercia is the name of a boat that I might not have noticed, just like any other passenger boat you might see floating down the River Thames on any given day. The Mercia was not an important boat, not until it became the boat that would take me to see Led Zeppelin. We were the guests of the ever gracious Jimena Paratcha Page, founder and director of the ABC Trust, a charity which raises money to assist the street children of Brazil. Her husband Jimmy helps out with the charity, reads stories to the kids, and plays guitar for a living. Jimena was nice enough to invite me to the gig on behalf of her husband and herself, and I was nice enough to say yes. One hates to be rude in these situations. So we all floated down the Thames in a dream, a strange little dream in which a boat full of people arrive at a palace, glowing in the night, for a concert by a rock band that could never reunite. Because that would be too good to be true. Along for the ride were my friend Mark and his wife, from Houston, Jimena and her kids, and about 40 invited guests. Champagne and snacks provided. Also along for the ride was legendary guitarist for Queen, Brian May. It was nice to see him again. I had first met him in Dallas when Queen toured behind their third album Sheer Heart Attack. I snuck into the band's sound check at 4 in the afternoon at McFarland Auditorium, and made a pest of myself, following Brian around until he escaped my presence somehow (I was an awestruck teenager). But I hung out and ended up meeting the band, Brian, Roger, John and Freddie, all at the same time. We talked for a couple of minutes and they offered an autograph, but none of us had a pen, so we settled on handshakes instead. It was amazing to have met Queen so early in their career. On The Mercia, Brian said he thought he knew me from somewhere. Funny, innit? Then I saw a girl I thought I knew form Dallas. I panicked, because I couldn't think of her name. I asked if she ever ate at the All Good Cafe in Dallas, and she said no. I asked several questions which led nowhere, so I gave up trying to figure out her name. I talked to her later in the boatride and she said she made films. I asked her to name a few and when she said Natural Born Killers, I knew she didn't eat at the All Good Cafe. Her name was Juliette Lewis. I am a dumbass. It's not my fault that she was so out of context. She's also in an excellent band called Juliette And The Licks. After a few minutes of relaxed conversation she touched the sleeve of my jacket and asked, "Am I looking at a House Of The Holy suit?" "Why yes you are." "Bucks, you are amazing!" That is what we in the Moment Business call A Moment. Try one, you'll like it. Everywhere I went in the O2 venue, people would stop me and ask about my Led Zeppelin suit. "A girl in Austin names Jess made it for me." A lot of strangers had their pictures taken with me, because they liked my suit. It has the Houses Of The Holy album cover repeated on the fabric; very trippy. But you need a trippy suit for a trippy trip.
Twenty rows up from Jimmy's side of the stage. Pete Townshend didn't play, a super bummer. Led Zeppelin did, a super not-bummer. No lengthy review here. It's all been said by the rock critics, you've read the set list, it's showing on YouTube right now if you hurry. What the f can I say? Led Zeppelin got back together, for one night only (I predict, and certainly one night only so far), and I was crazy-lucky enough to be there. They played songs and I took pictures, about 200. It was weird to be at such an historic event, and stranger still to be photographing it. I was actually relieved when my battery went dead so I could relax and focus on the show. On the subject of YouTube I would like to say how thankful I am that millions of people can see clips of this show at any time, especially since it was impossible to attend. It is a magic technology. But please realize, watching clips of this gig on a computer is like watching Kubrick's 2001 on your iPod. Better than not, certainly, but only 1% strength at best. People keep sending me clips of Kashmir but I prefer the gigantic version that's showing in my head. Excuse me, myHead. I loved this show because it was not the greatest hits presentation I had feared. About one hour of greatest hits, another of songs they felt like playing; a fair balance. My favorites were Since I've Been Loving You, No Quarter, Dazed And Confused and Kashmir. They amazingly threw in Stairway about 2/3rd's of the way through, as if it were not Stairway. I'm so glad they didn't close the show with it. People forget that it took a few years for Stairway to reach iconic status. Released in 1971, it wasn't the final number until '75. I had put in requests for God Save The Queen and Hey Hey What can I Do, but sadly, it was not to be. They ended the show with Rock And Roll and Jason Bonham proved very much to be his own man. He leapt off the drum riser and bowed on the floor before the other three, as if he were not worthy, but of course he is. A very classy and hilarious gesture on his part. The nicest thing I can say about this show is that it wasn't a Led Zeppelin reunion. It was a Led Zeppelin concert, proper and to the bone. Forget reunions, forget the tour, forget the 20 million ticket requests, forget the hype and the website and the umpteenth greatest hits collection (nice one by the way). THIS WAS A LED ZEPPELIN CONCERT. Right up there with good acid and great sex. Acid needs merely be good to be great, and sex must be great to be good. But Led Zeppelin needs one each of the following; a Page, a Plant, a Jones, and a Bonham, and all four were present, thank god, and thank same god, so was I. All I can tell you is the band played as great as the four times I saw them in the 70's, and if you closed your eyes, they did not seem to be in their 70's. They looked great, by the way. They walked onstage as if to say, 'this is how you take over the world.' And take it they did. Please don't give it back to Paris and Britney, they're too young to drive it. Really the only difference was that instead of thousands of Bic lighters held aloft, I saw a sea of thousands of cell phone screens, lighting up the arena and beaming messages to iGod. As the band left the stage, a gigantic Led Zeppelin logo filled the screen and I felt hope. By the way, reports of a less than rabid crowd are true. It was a most lackluster audience, by Zep standards, but you must remember, everybody had jet lag!
After the show I had backstage encounters with Robyn Hitchcock, Marilyn Manson, Ann Wilson, and Steph Paynes of the all girl tribute band Lez Zeppelin. But most importantly, I had brief encounters with Jason Bonham and John Paul Jones, who were nice enough and insane enough to mix with the fans after the gig. I told Jason I thought he did a great job of sounding like himself instead of his dad, and he grinned and said, "At the end of the day I said 'sod him!' and just threw everything I had into the can and bloody WENT for it!" Jonesy was nice enough to sign and date my Holy suit, and when I thanked him for getting past the hype to just play some great music, he looked quite serious and said, "That's the way it's supposed to be done!" I introduced him to Steph and he asked "And which one are you?," with a wry smile on his face. "Jimmy," she said, as he held her hands.
Me talking to Jonesy after a Zep gig. What a note to end on. And now I can finally say what I thought I never would; I saw Led Zeppelin when they were just a local band, playing a gig in their hometown, London.
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