Saturday, June 7, 2008

Led Zeppelin reunion at the Foo Fighters concert in London: A Fantasy

As Radiohead's Thom Yorke would be wont to tell me, "You're living in a fantasy."

Nonetheless, it was with sheer optimism that I devised a scenario for a surprise encore set by Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham at tonight's Foo Fighters show in London.

But it would take place only after the long show by the Foo Fighters, who are headlining the bill tonight at the second of two nights that were already more than six months in the making at Wembley Stadium.

And the whole time, the 85,000 screaming fans are even more enthusiastic tonight inside this packed house than the crowd of the same size was last night -- because, just as in a scenario straight out of the Led Zeppelin playbook written three decades ago, most of the band has been rumored to appear.

Tonight, Robert Plant is half a world away, at a place in upstate New York that locals refer to only as the CMAC. Not to be bothered, he's playing his own headlining show and even revisiting some Zep numbers with his current ensemble of bluegrass musicians -- Alison Krauss, T-Bone Burnett, Buddy Miller, etc.

Not an informed person in London expects Led Zeppelin's singer will show up. But some at the Foo Fighters show are swearing by it, that the rumor they heard, probably fifth-hand at best, was that Robert mysteriously didn't show up at his last few shows in America because he's been in London practicing all week.

One confused 13-year-old drummer from Liverpool has made his way to London with two of his friends, and he can't decide which member of the Foo Fighters he would rather have autograph his CD using his sweaty little Sharpie -- Taylor Hawkins or Dave Grohl. And he's heard every Foo Fighters song ever recorded and, unlike any other kid in his class, every Nirvana song.

But he hasn't heard more than three Led Zeppelin songs his whole life. He'll hear two of those tonight, but not the third, "Stairway to Heaven." And he's spooked at the thought of the scenario he and his two friends have concocted out of their imagination: that John Bonham has just returned from the grave and will now be reclaiming the drum stool warmed up for him recently by his son Jason.

Crazy little teen-age imagination.

When Jimmy Page was that young, he said he wanted to do chemical research when he grew up. And we all know how well that panned out.

The rumor, in its pure form, has been around for weeks but only recently repeated by the music press. Speculation began May 15 that something of interest to Led Zeppelin fans would happen when the Foo Fighters played Wembley. A very vaguely worded statement leaked out to a prominent member of a Led Zeppelin superfan online group, who said he had received the ambiguous message from the same confidential source who'd correctly predicted the precise timing last year of when Zep's reunion show was to be announced. Folks, that's the confirmed power of insight there, not a lucky guess.

Now, a British tabloid at week's end printed specifics from an undisclosed source who said Led Zeppelin would be represented onstage. The word is out. Fans may doubt its authenticity, but the word is out, and it's in the back of their minds at least. Some have chosen to accept it as gospel truth and can't wait to see Led Zeppelin.

At any rate, as the hours draw near to the stadium opening and admitting its first concert attendee, the lines at the venue are getting packed. People without tickets are hoping for a glimpse of Jimmy Page. They didn't bring cameras, but their cell phones can take mediocre pictures -- just in case. There's now a demand for tickets outside like you wouldn't believe. See how much a little rumor really means? Led Zeppelin T-shirts are everywhere.

Those who have tickets aren't giving them up. They were purchased with Foo Fighters in mind, so they're fine with the price they paid whether Led Zeppelin has anybody there or not. Ain't no tickets changing hands tonight. Grasp onto those, they're precious!

Backstage, a BBC Radio 1 broadcaster has been talking about the Foo Fighters for the last half an hour, hosting a "Request Show" going out live across the country. He introduces a segment between songs and holds out the microphone to John Paul Jones. He's clad in a black button-down shirt and blue jeans, unbeknownst to radio listeners, and he's smiling. In his soft mumble of a voice, he speaks about being a fan of the Foo Fighters and relates a story about his February appearance with the Foos outside the Grammy Awards ceremony four months ago. He conducted an orchestra that accompanied the Foos playing their recent hit, "The Pretender." Jonesy says some Grammy promotional contest, "My Grammy Moment," also gave him the chance two work with one young musician. He laughs that he never met either of the contest's other finalists.

That appearance, he says on the air, was just before of production at an L.A. studio for Sara Watkins, a singer he toured with a few summers ago, and with Tom Petty's Benmont Tench on keyboard. He's excited about that project but really can't wait for tonight's Foo Fighters appearance.

What's this? There's no mention of the Led Zeppelin rumor? The host didn't ask if Jimmy Page was there too? Or if Jonesy was even sitting in tonight? Well, at least we fans know John Paul Jones was there. Jason and Jimmy could be too, you never know.

But at least John Paul is there. You can always count on John Paul. After all, who showed up at the Marquee Club in 1976 when it was rumored Led Zeppelin was sitting in with the Pretty Things? Jonesy. Who would drag another instrument out onstage with him, or learn a new vocal harmony part, at the drop of a hat? Jonesy. Who had to have a guitar custom-made for him so he could play two different acoustic guitar necks and a mandolin together all at once, just because Robert Plant ordered him to do so? J-P-freakin'-J, baby.

In London, he's there. That we know. Why he's there, we're not sure.

The Brits are psyched as Grohl and Co. take the stage. Foo Fighters come out with a vengeance. They're playing with passion, playing with fire -- I mean, this set is smoking! This set is burning! They're absolutely wild, and the crowd is absolutely wild, and they're cheering! and they're clapping! they're pumping their fists in the air! they're crowd-surfing to the extent possible due to the security around (and because they're truly British in their grace and reservedness).

Only a few times in the past has London been so turned on to a band. Foo Fighters did what few could do, turn on the lights of Big Ben just with the fierce energy audiences would make at the city's several famous venues. What, like Oasis? Blur? Duran Duran? The Smiths? Queen? The Sex Pistols? Bowie? Pink Floyd? Led Zeppelin? The High Numbers? The Beatles? Dylan? In terms of fans, the Foo Fighters are doing what they all did. (Yeah, in a category with Led Zeppelin.)

So it's only fitting that tonight, more than halfway through the show, John Paul Jones seats himself at a piano to play, for the first time live, "Miracle," from the Foo Fighters album In Your Honor. He was on the studio recording. To the audience's delight, Jones sticks around for one more song. A roadie hands him a mandolin so he can play "Another Round" with the Foo Fighters, which he also played in the studio with them. He remembers it was sometime in the first three months of 2005.

So Jonesy accepts an enthusiastic ovation when he politely waves at the end of his second song. Dave Grohl on the mic screams his name, "John Paul Jones!!!!!!!" as the only confirmed guest walks back offstage. At this point, the Foo Fighters play four more songs and then their show is over. The packed house is really letting loose.

There will certainly be an encore set. Grohl, who's a bigger Zeppelin fan than anybody else within 50 kilometers, promises there'll be an encore. Immediately following the Foo Fighters' tight last note, Grohl shouts, "Don't you go anywhere! Ladies and gentlemen, stay tuned for Led Zep-puh-lin!!!!!!!!!......."

Now everybody is absolutely berzerk. They're getting it! They can't even fathom what they're going to see! Led Zeppelin is actually there, at Wembley Stadium, for the Foo Fighters show, and they're going to play! They're out of breath just thinking about it!

A few minutes pass in total blackness except for the lights of cell phones lit up everywhere. The sound is deafening. What in the world could possibly happen? Was Jimmy Page about to appear?

John Paul Jones makes the first appearance. It's his third instrument of the night. He walks from stage right with a bass strapped to him. A curtain opens, and centerstage, a new drum kit makes its appearance. This isn't at all the one Taylor Hawkins just used for two hours. This one is monstrous. It has a gong and kerosene. There's a crashing dirigible pictured front and center on the mammoth bass drum. And behind it walks a bald man in his forties who waves confidently as he assumes the stool. He's just puked backstage with nerves, but he hides that well, looking dapper with a pair of £600 shades in front of his face. Those who were guessing are right; this is is Jason Bonham.

Just those two, they gently slide into a funky groove not unlike Jonesy's instrumental from 2001, "Bass 'n' Drums." Displaying more than a few moments of inspiration, and even an obvious allusion to the riff of "Heartbreaker," it's been going on for a minute and a half when they stop. The curtains drop, and from stage right walks Jimmy Page with a cherry red Gibson Les Paul and a violin bow. He has a tall top hat in black on, with the type of long coat only a king would wear. He looks regal even without a crown. He may even look more like a magician, with his long, white hair. You even think maybe he has recently gone into chemical research in a laboratory where he's known as the mad scientist, ha ha.

He lets loose for a couple minutes playing the violin bow solo we all recognize. "Dazed and Confused," this is. After the solo, the curtains draw once again, to reveal Jones and Bonham now seen by all for the first time with Page. Cell phone lights flash, illuminating all points of the stadium. Led Zeppelin is here.

Page steps backward, to take his place opposite Jones. At Bonham's beckoning, they continue the song. There's no need for singing here. Page, leading, rips through parts of the song just like he did with the Yardbirds in 1967-1968, and with Led Zeppelin in 1968-1969. They're just as on fire as the Foo Fighters were at the beginning of their set! This place is rockin'!

And so, when the band goes back into its main theme, there's no screw-up like there somehow was in December when a full Led Zeppelin brought the house down at the O2. Tonight, everything is perfect. Their jamming was inventive and incendiary, but from here on out, this slow part is note-for-note, dead on. From Jones' side, Dave Grohl emerges with a handheld mic, ready to sing the last verse of "Dazed and Confused." For him, it's beyond his wildest dreams. Basically, he's here only to lead the audience in signing the words. He's not doing a Robert Plant imitation. But everybody else in the place, knowing there's no Robert Plant in the whole place, says it's OK if there are 85,000 amateur Robert Plant imitators in the place.

David Coverdale is even in attendance, rocking out in front of a mirror in a dressing room backstage with closed-circuit TV projecting the Led Zeppelin tune into his head. He was in the news recently, first telling an interviewer his Whitesnake enterprise was soon opening for Led Zeppelin, and then pulling back like John Kerry's vote for the war before his vote against the war.

"Dazed" goes over well, better than a lead balloon.

It's clear what song is next when Jason Bonham launches into the drum intro that his daddy copped off of a Little Richard B-side he and Robert loved. "Rock and Roll" is playing, and Grohl, though sharing the mic with Jimmy Page, is again merely singing to lead the audience. Page kills with his guitar solo. Jones and Grohl are grooving together at times. And Jason is tight but loose behind them all.

The song's last verse is followed by another quick guitar solo, and a final splash of Robert Plant imitation by 85,000 to sing, "lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time." Before "time," some come in right away like on Led Zeppelin's studio take. Others prefer to wait and imitate their favorite Robert Plant improvisation, from any era of his career.

But something unexpected happens after the word "time." Jason sits there, motionless. He's not playing the drum outro everyone expects. Over the public address system, a familiar drum pattern plays. It's clearly John Bonham, and people confirm it visually when they see him looking almost slender in a red tank top at the Royal Albert Hall, also in London, from Led Zeppelin's show on Jan. 9, 1970. It was Jimmy's birthday. It was a special night, and so is tonight, coincidentally a week after what would have been Bonzo's 60th birthday. This was Jonesy's, Jimmy's, Jason's and Dave's way of paying tribute to John Bonham.

The video of Bonzo is above everybody's heads, on a huge video screen on the ceiling nobody knew was there all night and not used until just now.

Jason has some drum responses to his dad throughout this version of "Moby Dick." This heartfelt tribute is exactly like Zappa Plays Zappa but wordless. Jason speaks nothing except for some of the grunts his dad would make -- or some tennis players. When the main riff of "Moby Dick" emerges, the screen goes from showing the 1970 performance to a live shot of modern-day Led Zeppelin still rocking one of their few instrumentals out. They extend it by adding guitar solos from Page that would have been performed at the beginning of the song. The place is going nuts.

That's it. Dave Grohl shouts "Led Zeppelin" half a dozen more times and thanks everybody for coming out. As if they need to be thanked for seeing two of the world's most kickass bands back to back!

But it wasn't broadcast live, so it makes the news worldwide tomorrow. And the night goes down in Led Zeppelin History, its story repeated for ages.

That's what I imagine is happening.

6 comments:

  1. Just a work of fiction writen to entertain and inspire. We already know it won't come true because the show is supposed to be outdoors, and reports are that it's raining in London. Who ever would have predicted rain in London?

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  2. just got back from the sat foo's gig.. jimmy page and john paul jones did two tracks on the encore... close but no cigar aye..

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  3. Really? Do you know what tunes, Gareth?

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  4. From "For Badgeholders Only" group

    Just back from Wembley

    JP and JPJ played on Rock and Roll (Dave Grohl on drums and Taylor on vox)
    and Ramble On (Taylor back on drums and DG on vocals).

    85,000 people there - intro by DG to JP and JPJ was superb.

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  5. Such a vivid imagination you have Lemon. Glad it came semi-true.

    Lime

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  6. I'm getting similar reports in! Check out http://zeppeled.blogspot.com/2008/06/led-zeppelin-perform-with-foo-fighters.html for one

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