Thursday, May 14, 2009

A beautiful atmosphere

On this day in 1988, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited in concert for the second and final time that decade.

The event was a massive concert celebrating the 40th "birthday" of Atlantic Records, and many of the major acts that had recorded for that label showed up to perform at the occasion. The Bee Gees, Yes, the Coasters, Foreigner, Crosby Stills & Nash, Paul Rodgers and Genesis all graced the stage that evening at Madison Square Garden in New York, as did Led Zeppelin.

Distinguishing this reunion from the previous one, the Live Aid stint, was that this performance retained the classic fourpiece ideal. In retrospect, the multi-drummer lineup with Phil Collins and Tony Thompson, plus one additional musician supporting John Paul Jones, hadn't been a well received hit for the 1985 outing. This time, only one drummer was used, and he was the closest specimen to the departed John Bonham. It was his flesh and blood, Jason Bonham, who would later that year be guesting on Jimmy Page's album and tour.

"He's got the same approach with his bass drum," Page said at the time. "Mind you, his father taught him to play drums. You know, he encouraged him virtually from the point when he could sit on a drum stool -- and literally, I'm sure. ... He's certainly got the sort of power within his drumming, which is, I mean, it's just right for me anyway."

Perhaps it was because Bonham helped to complete the lineup for the Atlantic Records celebration that Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones this time used the Led Zeppelin name for their billing. They hadn't called it Led Zeppelin at Live Aid.

The group performed five songs at the Madison Square Garden reunion: "Kashmir," "Heartbreaker," "Whole Lotta Love," "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Stairway to Heaven." But it was almost another 20 years before Led Zeppelin reunited again in a concert setting open to the general public. And when that happened, on Dec. 10, 2007, the same lineup was in place, with Jason Bonham on drums, and many agree he had greatly improved.

Chris Squire, the bassist for Yes, watched both performances, both times as another musician performing at the gigs. In a new interview, Squire says the reunited Led Zeppelin in 2007 was much better than in 1988. "Get the Led Out," a nationally syndicated radio show, is today broadcasting in several markets a never-before-aired audio clip from Squire, who says:
"At the Atlantic 40th in 1988, their performance left a little to be desired, but in all fairness, Jason was 19 years old or something then. It must have been difficult for him doing that show in his father's footsteps. But, twenty years later, Jason's become a great drummer. The whole power of Zeppelin really comes from the drums, actually, and he played magnificently and the whole band did."
In an hour-long episode of "Get the Led Out XL" that has aired in many major markets earlier this year, Vanilla Fudge singer and keyboardist Mark Stein commented on the legacy left by Led Zeppelin, which opened for his band several times between 1968 and 1969. In outtakes from the interview featured on that show, Stein had this to say:

"I remember doing the Atlantic 40th anniversary -- I guess it was '87... it was '88, forgive me. Everybody that was anybody on Atlantic was there. Led Zeppelin was there, the Bee Gees, Vanilla Fudge, Average White Band, and Phil Collins, you know, Stephen Stills. Everybody was there. It was like a kid in a candy store when it came to rock. A beautiful atmosphere. Everybody was there. Dan Aykroyd -- even Ahmet Ertegun comes up to me with bloody Henry Kissinger to shake my hand! It was one of the great rock festivals, in my view, of all time.

"I remember running up to Robert, and I hit him on the back, and at first he didn't recognize me because everybody was clamoring to touch the guy, and my hair was long or whatever. So I said, 'Hey, Robert, it's Mark from the Fudge.' And he turned around and he said, 'Oh my god, I didn't recognize you! I thought you were somebody from the press, I was just sloughing you off, you know? My god, how are you doing?' And it was funny because he said to me, 'You haven't caught any mudsharks or anything lately, have you?' I said, 'I don't know, I heard some kind of weird story about that.' He said, 'I don't think that ever happened, do you?' I said, 'I don't think so either.' And we both had a smirk about it. It was great, hanging out with the guys, Jonesy, backstage. But Jimmy Page wasn't around. I don't recall. He kind of was being pretty reclusive, so it was basically Robert and John Paul and Jason, of course, you know, John Bonham's son was playing and hanging out a bit.

"When they went onstage, they did their set, and it's so many years later. You know, Robert was trying to do a lot of the vocals he did when he was so many years younger, so ... They were good, but it wasn't, obviously, the spontaneity and the greatness that they had in the early years, you know. And that kind of bothered me, to be honest, because there's a lot of people who saw Zeppelin for the first time, you know. I saw 'em in their heyday, and they were amazing. And I used to hear people saying, 'Well, I saw Zeppelin and they were kind of, like, this and that.' I used to go over to them and say, 'Look, you gotta remember Zeppelin were phenomenal, you know, in the early days and all through the '70s and into the '80s, so don't judge Led Zeppelin by what you saw that night. The guys had been through hell and back, decades later, so I don't think it's fair to judge them that way. Judge them by their earlier performances. Judge them by things you've seen on DVDs. Judge them by their records, OK?' You know, how could the energy possibly be as intense as it was back in their heyday? But I think they came off good, I think Jason did a great job and, hey, it's rock 'n' roll!"

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