Sunday, December 14, 2008

'I just came from this blinding gig ...'

As the story is told, John Bonham once explained his way out of a speeding ticket, enchanting the officer who'd pulled him over with a look under the hood of his brand new souped-up sportscar. In the process, he explained that he had just come off of the natural high of having played a "blinding gig."

Those words came to me last night after I was winding down from my third Houses of the Holy show with Classic Albums Live. I never played a gig in my entire life that was more blinding than Saturday, Dec. 13, at the Paradise Live stage at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

Even a gentleman in the front row who'd seen the Thursday show told me last night there was a considerable difference in the band's performance at those two particular shows. For the most part, we did everything right at that first show, and we gelled. But at last night's show, we not only played it right but did so with a fluidity among us. We were graceful and articulate and heavy and emotional and powerful, all the things that make a Led Zeppelin performance, in addition to the precision that defines a Classic Albums Live performance. This was probably an appropriate mix of tight and loose.

This front-row attendee also commented that I seemed looser onstage. That went without saying. I definitely was. Feeling at home in this band helps out. Craig Martin and Nick Hildyard both made me feel welcome and important with their comments about me to the crowd. But what really made me feel like I was doing something over and above myself was the healthy supply of adrenaline running through my body when I was playing. I mean, here's a guy who can't dance at all, and I'm swinging and swaying through "D'yer Mak'er" and the choreographer's nightmare that is "The Crunge." Not that Merce Cunningham would be impressed enough to recruit me or anything, but I'm just letting the music be my master and heeding the master's call.

Of the most important things that stick out in my mind from the encore set, one is my spontaneous physical reaction while playing a number we hadn't performed at either of the preceding shows or even in rehearsal. Its title, "Since I've Been Loving You," was mentioned in a group e-mail a month ago as one to be prepared to play, but that's it. No further word of playing it until it was the next song, with 10 seconds to go before launching into it.

But I was prepared. I selected the organ sound Nick had shown me on Thursday afternoon, labeled "Soul Man." I had tried out a few seconds' worth of licks on the sound at that time and, finding it to my liking, moved on to something different. Now that sound was coming in handy. We're doing "Since I've Been Loving You" live.

(The physical reaction thing is coming up. Honest.)

I sit down to play the tune. It's an organ I'm playing, and whenever I play the organ I'm sitting. I used to play church organ, after all. And this is no different. The song starts out all somber and delicate. It's fitting to be seated. But there's a point in the song, at its climax, where it becomes necessary to, er, adjust. And that's what I did. The Lemon let loose and sprung up from the stool, simultaneously kicking it backward at a monitor. It was as unanticipated as the song suggestion itself.

And totally unlike John Paul Jones! That's one guy I've never seen throw stuff around onstage.

But I have heard him crack some dry humor at shows. Almost every night on his first solo tour, in 1999, he was having comical exchanges with audience members based on "Fe fi fo fum" and other quotes associated with him. So I tried my hand at some humor last night. Crickets! Yeah, I think I'll stick with the music.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. We are working up a particular number from Presence. We are looking forward to all three of our remaining gigs at Paradise Live, but we'll have extra reason to play it at the last show, since it really will be the last Zeppelin show ever at that little theater. Classic Albums Live will be moving to another South Florida venue in 2009, but we are sure to go out with an unforgettable gig on Saturday the 20th. Probably another "blinding gig."

Update: I added a YouTube video above of the first minute or so of "Stairway to Heaven" from our finale performance on Saturday, Dec. 20.

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