Saturday, September 15, 2007

November reunion, outlasting previous ones six times over, needs to be preserved

It appears some real advance planning has accompanied the announcement of this upcoming concert performance by the surviving members of Led Zeppelin, scheduled to take place two months into the future.

When I speak of advance planning, certainly I am not referring to the lack of foresight that meant the announcement of a ticket registration process was uprooted by excessive demand within minutes. (After all, who could have predicted so many people would want to go to a little Led Zeppelin show in 2007? What does the proverb say absence does? Hmmmm.)

The advance planning that is becoming clearer has to do with Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham. For one thing, they told event promoter Harvey Goldsmith they were going to play for two hours, instead of the 30 minutes he asked for. There is no doubt in my mind that, unlike before the previous handful of reunion shows, they have been extensively talking over set list ideas and rehearsing material. By all accounts, this won't be another trouncing through 20 minutes' worth of songs with minimal prep time; instead, this is going to be something to do justice to the group.

A revelation in the Exeter Express & Echo lets slip that Led Zeppelin has had a "secret rehearsal venue in London." The article also quotes Hugh Manson, longtime manufacturer of electric basses for John Paul Jones and who is building new gear customized for the November reunion. "It is going to be absolutely fantastic," said Manson. "Rehearsals have been hard work but great fun. I have just finished making one new guitar for the concert and am now working on another, which will be a spare. It is a four-string bass which is extra long - at least that is the best way to describe it."

Manson -- who was my interview subject in the April 28, 2003, edition of "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History" -- proceeds to hint that some songs have already been determined, with rehearsals having dictated new keys and, therefore, new instruments. He tells the Express & Echo, "Some of the songs will be in a lower key than usual and, while you can tune a guitar to accommodate almost any note, the best way is to make an instrument to do the job - and that's what this is. In fact, all the basses used by the band in the concert will be ours."

Some fans have interpreted this quote to mean that Jones will not be the only member on bass. Specifically, they think Jimmy Page might play bass for a song like "When the Levee Breaks," allowing Jones to play the lead on his lap steel guitar as he has done in solo outings and other live ventures throughout this decade.

One as-yet unconfirmed rumor suggests that Page has been readying himself since April to play a live version of "Dazed and Confused," complete with a violin bow solo. He sped through a violin bow solo during a live performance of the song on Feb. 9, 2002 – one of only two times he attempted "Dazed" in the past 10 years. The alleged reading of the song this November might be more like the old days when Page thoughtfully prepared for his moment in the spotlight, center-stage.

In fact, prior to Led Zeppelin's shows at Knebworth in 1979 where Page played a violin bow solo to introduce "Achilles Last Stand," the guitarist jotted down stage notes on how he wanted the laser lights and smoke behind him to function during that moment. Those visual and musical cues for effects to be triggered by crew and by fiberoptic cable attached to his violin bow demonstrate how interested and involved Page has been in defining his own image.

Certainly, he has been the primary gatekeeper when it comes to controlling the group's image, given his direct involvement in the behind-the-scenes work of preserving Led Zeppelin. He has coordinated posthumous releases from 1982's Coda on through this November's reissue of The Song Remains the Same, with remastered CDs and box sets as well as live discs and BBC performances. During the band's existence, he labored at length to have great input in the Led Zeppelin film and several studio albums.

This leads me to another point: the documentation of this seemingly well-planned reunion concert. As of now, no plans have been announced to film this sole representation of live Led Zeppelin in the 21st century. If it comes off as well as is hoped, and indeed especially if this one-off show is all that is being considered, then it would be a horrible shame if the unique spectacle can be viewed only by the 18,000 ticketholders and special guests and is not captured on video.

Think of the possibilities: It could result in a massive television extravaganza. Proceeds from sales of a commercial release could be earmarked to benefit the Ahmet Erteg√ľn Education Fund, the charity sowing the benefits of the concert ticket themselves. All this is achievable just by allowing the event to be shared with the millions of fans all around the world.

This is the subject of an online petition now circulating. If you feel the same way, you are urged to sign the letter. The wonderful and historically unique occasion of Led Zeppelin's November 2007 reunion must somehow make it to the masses, and fans must not sit back quietly while such an oversight takes place. Led Zeppelin is a band for the ages, and this should be a reunion for the ages -- not just for two hours on Nov. 26.

That all being said, it is possible that recording the show could be accomplished even as an afterthought. Those who learn from history know that this is how the last three nights of Led Zeppelin's North American tour of 1973 was filmed and came to be included in both The Song Remains the Same and the 2003 DVD. It's also how the last two nights of a 1999 mini-tour of Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes ended up being recorded and subsequently released via computer downloads and on a live album.

The latter circumstance is detailed on the Web site of Kevin Shirley's Cameman Productions; Shirley was the sound engineer for Led Zeppelin's DVD, and he produced, engineered and mixed Live at the Greek for Page and the Black Crowes. Page, who said their performance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles was "one of those nights where everything just gelled beautifully -- one of those magical nights, so it was just tremendous," was reminded backstage after the show that Shirley had recorded it. "Yeah, that's right, we did record it," Page is quoted as saying. "Thank goodness."

Some history is meant to be repeated.

4 comments:

  1. Great post, Steve.

    A minor quibble though; I believe Page played another instrumental version of Dazed and Confused in the last ten years - at Net Aid in 1999. This came after his "Come With Me" appearance with Puffy and before the instrumental "Domino" composition and his brief set with the Crowes (or at least the Brothers Robinson).

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  2. Oh, you just had to bring up Diddy, didn't you? But yes, I do recall this now.

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  3. Ha - well, it's a bit of a sore spot for all of us...

    However, I must admit that for me, this questionable collaboration was life-changing. I had never really been into music (I was 16), but when I heard Page with Combs on Saturday Night Live, it inspired me to go find the original version of the song. In the process of finding "Kashmir," I bought three other Zeppelin albums, got hooked, and the rest is... Led Zeppelin history.

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  4. Well, that's a good thing! I never did mind that track much myself, although I know he took an awful lot of abuse from hardcore fans who thought the new track was an affront to "Kashmir." On the other hand, I thought the version from Saturday Night Live had some really exciting drumming, and it was good to see a single with Jimmy Page on it in the Billboard charts again.

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