Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How new music from Led Zeppelin could eschew the new-music/bathroom-break paradox

Put yourself in the shoes of your favorite classic rock act.

Your band got back together and decided to have another go at it. It's been a while, but the chemistry is there, and you're juiced about some new music you're writing and rehearsing.

But your new music has not seen the light of day outside of a rehearsal studio, and you're not sure how well it would be received if you played it live alongside the many hits your fans would expect to hear. Bob Lefsetz describes the dilemma:

"[W]hen people go to the show today, they only want to hear the hits. They don't want to hear anything new. And when you do fire up your new compositions, they immediately go to the bathroom, got get a drink. New material is like the obligatory drum solo of yore, signal for a break.

"Therefore, every act that is not a flash in the pan is an oldies act. The customer, paying an overinflated price for a ducat, feels he DESERVES to hear the hits. That's why you charged him so much, right? ...

"You want to grow. But your audience won't let you. They don't want to hear anything new."

Lefsetz continues on in yesterday's post to offer what I consider a pretty good suggestion that could guide new music from any classic rock act, including Led Zeppelin, toward acceptance among fans -- so as to avoid the new-music/bathroom-break paradox.

The new album -- or even a disc or electronic download with only the songs you intend to play live -- comes complimentary with your advance concert ticket purchase. That way, fans can play it ahead of time and become acquainted with it and grow to love. It'll be something they actually want to hear because it fits in with the old stuff!

"If all the money is in touring, why are you trying to sell your music? Doesn't it make more sense to give it away, in the hope that people will have a better concert experience?

"... [I]f the $100 ticket came with the new material, the audience would be motivated to play the new stuff, in ANTICIPATION of the show. After a while, this will become the new behavior, people will know to listen to the free new music, because that's what the act is going to play!

"Even the Eagles. How many hits do they have? That's all people want to hear. But the band finally made a new album, they'd like to stretch out on stage. How do they keep the audience from being disinterested? By making sure each and every customer has the new music in ADVANCE!

"... If you're a touring act, you've got to stop thinking of your new music as a revenue source. Rather, it's an investment in your career, its vitality, its longevity. The key is to get it in as many hands as possible so your sphere of influence, your customer base, doesn't shrink, but GROWS!

"... As it is, you're announcing your tour almost a year before it happens, getting all that revenue up front, before anybody else does... If you give away the music with the ticket, the audience has a long time to become familiar with it! Hell, the dropping of the album and the on sale date happen simultaneously!"

So, what say you part-time Zep marketing strategists? Time has changed since 1980. Audiences, their demand, their expectations, have all changed. Could new Zep material be distributed as explained above? Would this do the trick? Could Led Zeppelin successfully adapt in the 21st century and help forge new behavior among its listening audience, the same way Led Zeppelin of yore revolutionized the 90-10 split?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Do Jimmy and Jonesy realize...?

Robert Plant's entire professional career has been one of constant evolution. When Led Zeppelin evolved as a band, Robert evolved as a singer. When Led Zeppelin broke up, Robert found new ways to branch out. When he made peace with his past, he discovered ways to redevelop the music of his past while never failing to forge new territory ahead.

Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones must be cognizant of this; after all, they're in the middle of it all. They're more aware of it than is any hack who's typing up opinions on a BlackBerry after a day's work in Washington, D.C., right?

But exactly how deep is their appreciation for how far Robert has come in the 28 years since Led Zeppelin ceased functioning as a creative force?

How many times do you think they have spun Robert's album with Alison Krauss to know what Raising Sand is all about? How many shows have they caught on their tour, which went to the United Kingdom last week?

Think either has watched enough Strange Sensation videos over the past eight years to understand Robert's passion in the Dreamland and Mighty ReArranger albums?

I don't think it's appropriate to consider the possibility of any future Led Zeppelin activity without fully comprehending the disparate personalities involved and the places in which those people must find themselves, and each other.

Any modern-day, full-length Led Zeppelin concert would, by all expectations, necessarily have to be more like that concert in London last December than any show before it. It's just natural and proper to assume this.

That means the inevitable numbers cannot be pulled. And we all know which ones those are. The band would be forever maligned if any of the following five did not make it into the set list of a 2008/2009 show: "Black Dog," "Since I've Been Loving You," "Dazed and Confused," "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love."

Dare to put on a Led Zeppelin concert without those at this time, and nothing would be closer to professional suicide. Somebody, somewhere, would paint Led Zeppelin as irrelevant old folks who don't know how to pander to the masses when that's what they should be doing.

So, half your set list has already been dictated by popular demand. That much is set in stone.

Sure, save for "Dazed," these songs never dropped from Zep set lists once they made it into the live act. And Page, Plant, Jones and Jason Bonham had no problem playing them back then. They were in charge.

Someone at or near age 60 deserves better than to be told what to do. It must be frustrating when that happens.

On top of that, it's probably true that there are many songs a modern-day Led Zeppelin concert should ignore. Basically, anything not performed by Led Zeppelin by 1980 falls into that category.

Plant, Page and Jones have been fond of working cover songs into their own live sets and onto their solo albums since then. But it would be seen as heresy for Page to insist on adding Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" to a Zep set, or for Jones to demand "Down to the River to Pray" stuck in between a couple of acoustic songs.

This is especially more challenging to Plant, who has never shied away from a good cover.

I mean, you can play "We're Gonna Groove" and "Gallows Pole" and "In My Time of Dying" at a Led Zeppelin concert. Even though they're (basically) covers, they're fair game because the original Zeppelin touched them.

But two of Plant's three most recent albums have been almost entirely made up of covers. Led Zeppelin never played songs by Gene Clark, Arthur Lee, the Everly Brothers, Stephen Stills or Skip Spence, so there are an awful lot of cover songs he favors that wouldn't quite fit into a Zep show.

Not only that, but it's also natural that Led Zeppelin shows would force the band members to ignore performing any songs from their outside projects. Who stands to suffer the most from this? Again, it's Plant, who since 1980 has taken part in eight albums of new material.

Imagine a Led Zeppelin concert that ignores Page's unremarkable solo album, Outrider, and any of the work by his other bands, the Firm and Coverdale/Page. Totally believable and appropriate, isn't it?

What are you giving up by ignoring JPJ's solo work? Mostly some great instrumentals spread across three albums.

Ignore Robert's post-Zep career in a concert, and there's a whole lot more auspiciously missing.

He went out and played some shows like that in 1998, playing to the big houses with Jimmy Page, and note how Plant ended up pulling the plug by the end of the year.

Tell Robert he isn't free to reproduce certain material onstage, and you may have yourself a dealbreaker, folks.

It is these factors that make a Led Zeppelin show seem restrictive to the creative process and to future evolution.

Fans who argue Page, Plant and Jones ought to write new material are kidding themselves if they think new songs will be given a fighting chance in a live setting. No matter how good it is, it would still be deemed a bathroom break. There's no room for a bathroom break in the Led Zeppelin legacy.

All in all, the band's own legacy is the hindrance that may keep the group from reforming yet again. It stands to be tainted.

The uneducated rumor mill says Led Zeppelin will be touring soon. And further, Whitesnake is opening for them. I'm going to laugh myself silly. There's absolutely no way this story has any credibility today.

And the money? Please. That won't change Robert's mind. Not now, not ever. "Tour" is a bad word. Maybe Led Zeppelin would agree to play a few charity events, but probably not more than about eight. He definitely isn't interested in the "T" word. It's just not about the money.

Personally, I don't see how a Led Zeppelin reunion could be anything more than just a few charity benefits and a huge commitment.

Friday, May 2, 2008

New online-only videos span Led Zeppelin's career

The other day, I chortled when I read a comment on this blog from my friend Rich, requesting some live Zeppelin clips rather than live clips of Zep covers from a music festival in 2008 where no Led Zeppelin members even appeared. He has a point!

It just so happens that some vintage live Zeppelin performances are being uploaded to Youtube these days with the approval of the band. The LedZeppelin Youtube channel is officially sanctioned by the group, so some video and audio clips are now seeing their official release exclusively online.

The channel has some clips from their previous official releases. Who could forget this excerpt of the powerful "I Can't Quit You Baby" from the Royal Albert Hall in 1970?

...or this funky version of "The Ocean" performed at Madison Square Garden in 1973?

...or the classic and penultimate take on "Kashmir" from the Knebworth 1979 shows?

But what's especially interesting to see are some of the videos added over the past couple of weeks whose release the band had heretofore withheld authorizing.

Chris Welch took some 8mm footage of the group on tour in West Germany in July 1970. Now these clips have been edited together and come to life with the soundtrack of "Celebration Day" supplied for effect.

An outstanding performance of "Sick Again" from the L.A. Forum in 1977 is presented in full with several sources supplying great angles of Jimmy Page in his white dragon suit wielding his double-neck guitar, and the rest of the guys doing what they do best. This montage was spliced together by Sam Rapallo, webmaster of the official Led Zeppelin Web site,

The band takes flight in this 8mm footage shot on location in Pittsburgh in 1973 outside the Starship. This was the location of a famous photo shoot in which the band poses next to their touring plane with Robert Plant opening his arms wide. The first half of the footage is accompanied by Page's guitar instrumental "Bron-Y-Aur," until we arrive at the concert. Then, snippets of that night's version of "Rock and Roll" and "Black Dog" kick in with the visuals synched up to the tunes.

Cut to a year earlier in San Bernardino, Calif., where the band can be seen and heard ripping up a version of "The Song Remains the Same" a whole year before it was released. Page's guitar antics continue in the middle of his "Heartbreaker" solo. This also includes snippets of "Black Dog," "Stairway to Heaven" and Page's violin bow solo from "Dazed and Confused." Remarkably, before the footage ends with a brief snippet of "Whole Lotta Love," we get a glimpse of a rare onstage performance of "The Crunge."

Here's a version of "Kashmir" recorded in Los Angeles the year it came out on album. That Mellotron John Paul Jones plays may not be quite in tune, but what else would you expect from a 1975 performance?

Fast-forward two years, again in Los Angeles, and this time there's nearly 10 minutes' worth of Led Zeppelin performing. This 8mm footage includes a shot of Jones at his keyboard during "Trampled Underfoot" and another of John Bonham during his "Over the Top" drum solo. Page can be seen performing portions of a guitar solo that preceded "Achilles Last Stand." But the biggest surprise of the night comes five-and-a-half minutes into the video, when Led Zeppelin welcomes a rare guest onstage -- namely Keith Moon, drummer for the Who. With Keith at Plant's microphone and Plant at the drums, hilarity ensues! Moon then sticks around to play timpani and tambourine for the encores, and Page marks the one-off occasion with an out-of-tune string heard a few times at the beginning of "Rock and Roll."

There are also segments from several shows on Led Zeppelin's final tour. Catch up with them in 1980 at their destinations in Munich:

...and Zurich:

...and Rotterdam.