Thursday, July 31, 2008

Led Zeppelin exists as a brand but not a band

Want an officially licensed Led Zeppelin beach towel? How about a matching bag? Would you like to sit on an official Led Zeppelin barstool while you're wearing your Led Zeppelin hoodie and staring at your Led Zeppelin blacklight poster with the soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same blaring on 180-gram vinyl? These days, there sure are enough goodies available from Bravado, the sole officially licensed dealer of Led Zeppelin merchandise, for a hardcore fan to adorn a room in a way never before possible.

The amount of sanctioned merchandise available to the public keeps on increasing. Collect all the ringtones and 2007 reunion programs you want, but there is one thing Led Zeppelin has not been able to supply: new musical compositions. That's because Led Zeppelin, while successfully resurrected in a concert setting once last December, is not a functioning band.

Led Zeppelin was forming at this time exactly 40 years ago, and it spent the following 12 years offering up the music that made the band the best in the world. Excitement about the group has not lessened in the long period since the fourpiece existed. The band's original albums are among the biggest sellers of all time, and newer collections of archival material have been right behind, with barstools and beach bags being manufactured to satisfy fans clamoring for more memorabilia associated with the band.

This 40th anniversary gives pause for reflection and a measure of celebration. One can only assume that the group's three original surviving members are cognizant of the occasion and are marking it in their own ways, just as will the collectors and fans who will be taking part in the memorabilia exhibit held at the historic Knebworth Field House in England between Friday and Sept. 3.

Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant must also harbor some desire to recreate some of their greatest collective moments from when they played alongside John Bonham, rock's greatest drummer. Recent packages like BBC Sessions in 1997 and DVD in 2003 have reminded fans about what Led Zeppelin was like in its '60s and '70s heyday. Because the group's fine form reappeared onstage for an isolated moment in this decade, with the powerful and deserving Jason Bonham behind the drum kit, it is more than a mere possibility that the group could do something else to add to its outstanding legacy. As such, it is simply up to the Led Zeppelin organization to decide whether or not the last Led Zeppelin song has been written, or the last Led Zeppelin tour has taken place.

We can make educated guesses on the mindsets of the would-be band members. Jimmy Page is looking back on the band he was in when he was at his best. Jason Bonham is hopeful for the band that will make him his best. John Paul Jones could be doing anything at this point, but he has a soft spot for playing with Jimmy Page. Robert Plant, turning 60 next month, is looking ahead to something he hasn't done yet.

If it is indeed Plant's decision to pursue other projects, it is unfortunate for him that he would inevitably be viewed, once again, as the lone holdout to a Led Zeppelin reunion. It would likewise be unfortunate for the others that he would not be joining them should they otherwise decide something like a world tour is in the cards.

It would be just as unfortunate if the history of Led Zeppelin, as the one legendary rock group that resisted all temptation to reunite and/or change its membership for the sake of a whopping payday, were so drastically rewritten that the new storyline involves a 2009 world tour with a new singer, such as a young Robert Plant imitator.

Still, Jason Bonham was Jimmy Page's drummer on tour in 1988, and they didn't call it Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page went on tour between 1994 and 1998, and they didn't call it Led Zeppelin. If a Led Zeppelin tour is discussed for next year and the willing parties don't include everybody it naturally could, and particularly if one or more surrogates is called to step in, then there's no sense in calling it Led Zeppelin. Call it the Vegetables, or the Mad Boys, or the Whoopie Cushions, or the Nobs. Just don't call it Led Zeppelin.

Then they can introduce a new brand with which to license merchandise, so they can pocket the profits and keep the proceeds from any unwilling participants.

Update: Well explained comments from Jeff Jampol, manager of the Doors, appeared in late October in a mailing list by Bob Lefsetz. Jampol, in a response to an earlier complaint about the rock band's perceived commercialism of late, defends the choices he made and explains why. Click here to read them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Page, Jones and Foos to DVD; separate film with Page to get Canadian screening

The special guest appearance by Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones onstage at a Foo Fighters concert last month is to be included on a DVD now set for release this August in the United Kingdom. Footage culled from the American group's two-night stand at Wembley Stadium in London, including the double encore of "Ramble On" and "Rock and Roll," already hit U.K. movie theaters this month for a limited run. The Foo Fighters DVD may also be included as part of an updated greatest hits package listed for later release worldwide.

Meanwhile, a documentary described as containing Page's first time meeting fellow guitarists Edge and Jack White is set for its world premiere this September at the Toronto International Film Festival. All three guitarists are supposedly depicted creating new music separately and then jamming together in the film, titled "It Might Get Loud." This latest picture from acclaimed director Davis Guggenheim was previously mentioned as set to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival but was not screened at that time.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Plant, Krauss make front-page news in Nashville

So glad to see Jae S. Lee's photo of Robert Plant smiling onstage at the Sommet Center on the front page of The Tennessean this morning.

Beverly Keel was the reporter who two years ago broke the news that Plant and Alison Krauss were in Nashville collaborating on an album produced by T Bone Burnett. She even predicted a Grammy award without hearing one note!

It's Keel who now brings them to the front page of this Sunday edition with a story reviewing the critical acclaim and Grammy award success these musicians have now earned together. The piece, available here, delves deep into Plant's background for a reading audience already quite familiar with Krauss from her years fronting Union Station.

That group isn't mentioned in the article, but Keel writes extensively about the current state of affairs with regard to a potential Led Zeppelin reunion, even posing the question to both singers as whether or not Krauss ought to be regarded as "the new Yoko Ono," as was suggested in print by The Guardian newspaper back in England.

Krauss was level-headed in her response: "Oh, whatever. I don't think about it. I didn't cause anybody to do anything." Plant also fielded the question: "What a cheap shot. These guys, they should dare to do better than that."

The story focuses almost entirely on Plant's personality, his attitude and his ever-changing musical influences. Both he and Krauss comment at length on these topics, and the article concludes with Plant quoting a song called "Rejoice for the Song Has No Ending." He says, "That is basically what it is: The song has no ending if you can turn the song and keep it real and beautiful."

Plant says he has several personas -- at least "six or seven" of them -- which resulted in the diversity of his singing styles and his lyrics even in the Led Zeppelin days. He cites the words in "The Rain Song" and then says, "There were so many different guys in that group singing and writing. That was why the group was so good. Everybody could go into different characters -- the raucous one, the sort of braggadocio, the kind of back-door man."

But reliving the Led Zeppelin days? He answers this a few different ways in the article.

First: "I appreciate what people feel, and in a way they might be justified ..."

With this comment, Plant acknowledges an argument often made that he wouldn't be as successful as he is today without having been in Led Zeppelin, whose other members seem ready to reunite. But is the argument really that because they can, they should? Does Plant owe it to the fans, or to Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham?

Plant continues: "... but how does one go about giving everybody everywhere what they want? Because everybody wants a different angle of it all. So I think what I'm doing now is the best way for people to know who I am. I think that the six or seven other Robert Plants are going to have to wait."

He is also quoted as saying: "But if you're thinking about whether there will be another Indiana Jones? Well, gee, there is. Could Led Zeppelin play together? Of course they could, but why? And for what? That is the question."

Wow. That's exactly the way John Paul Jones saw it when I interviewed him in December 2001. He sees it differently now.

Plant says, "So my ideal is that I go with my heart."

He is the feather in the wind, changing directions constantly.

Krauss likens him to a snake winding around on an unpredictable path: "He's going to go around this curve over here, and maybe he got a CD in Seattle and that made him turn this other way. Or maybe he shook somebody's hand in Istanbul and that's why he's turned to the right now."

Krauss then sums it up in one sentence: "He's constantly on the move to find inspiration."

So when I say to those hoping for a Led Zeppelin reunion, "Just wait and see," I guess I ought to clarify the position and add on, "Just hope Robert Plant can be inspired enough to participate."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thoughts from the Plant/Krauss show in Nashville

A few thoughts occur to me as I sit in the back of the Sommet Center tonight for my fifth show of the Raising Sand 2008 tour.

One is that the band is being somewhat adventurous with the set list, continually tweaking it: adding songs, substituting others. The medley of Plant's "I'm in the Mood" and the traditional "Matty Groves" (familiar to Fairport Convention fans) is still a crowd favorite, having entered the set midway through the tour. And "When the Levee Breaks"/"Girl from the North Country" returned to the encore set tonight.

Plant remarked afterward that they try to play it differently every night, to the point that they don't always finish together. Tongue firmly in cheek, he asked the crowd if they ever have that experience.

Further set alterations: "Green Pastures" has been sacrificed, and tonight they debuted a Carter Family tune with Alison on vocals. She proclaimed it was only yesterday that T Bone Burnett suggested they play "Wildwood Flower" and she was nervous about performing it for the first time to her home audience. Well, she really needn't worry, with that overly capable band behind her. Stuart Duncan in particular shines on this number, playing the mandolin.

Robert Plant also has a new solo song now. It was my first time hearing him cover "Nervous Breakdown" by Eddie Cochran, and his imitation of the singer was perfect. It wasn't a crowd pleaser for some reason though. I'm wondering if they "got it." Some suspect this song was a lyrical and possibly musical influence on Led Zeppelin when writing "Communication Breakdown" for their first album.

Plant's vocal improvisations are taking center stage on the bluesy Led Zeppelin original "Black Country Woman" and the Townes Van Zandt album closer "Nothin'," which Robert remarkably makes his own with every performance.

For Plant, performance-wise, the highlights of the show still seem to be those two tunes and his fitting duet with Alison, "The Battle of Evermore." These are truly incredible numbers, and it's great to hear the Nashville audience recognize them too.

One final note about the show, since this is my fifth time seeing it, is that the band is really improving with each performance. The rhythm section, drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch, proves its worth night after night responding to Plant's vocal improvisations. This was most evident at the end of "Nothin'" tonight when Robert let out a litany of "come on, come on, come on" and Crouch followed. Bellerose was adding rhythmic emphasis on the verses, accentuating Plant's singing. Don't hate me for saying this is tight but loose! It really is!

Hey you! You on the West Coast! You have the chance to "Boogie with Stu" and the rest this autumn! Go! I'm telling you!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Led Zeppelin memorabilia on display, at auction and for public consumption

Parallel to the business of selling music is the longstanding and lucrative business of merchandising a band's name in myriad ways. Led Zeppelin's history is rich with savvy marketing gimmicks such as The Object, a mysterious promotional figurine whose original manufacture supporting Presence's release in 1976 was limited to 1,000 until cheap knock-offs hit the market for a quick buck, and the series of six album covers for the group's last studio set.

Several extensive magazine articles and Web sites are dedicated to tally the quantity and second-hand price range of rare foreign pressings of Led Zeppelin's music and of items that were pulled from shelves for one reason or another.

Collectors should be aware that their universe is about to expand. A new officially sanctioned Led Zeppelin collectible is being made available to the public, but this ultra-rare pressing of the soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same on white vinyl will be about 200 times harder to get than tickets to the band's one-off reunion concert were last year.

Talk about a limited pressing! There are to be only 200 of these white vinyl sets produced, and only half are being immediately offered up for public consumption. They are to be randomly given to customers of Led Zeppelin's official Web site who purchase the no-less-enticing black vinyl pressings of the soundtrack album. This four-LP soundtrack pressing on 180-gram vinyl is to be available July 29. It is to contain the same expanded track listing as was on last November's re-release of the 1976 set on CD. The remixing, mastering, artwork and liner notes will also resemble last year's edition. A set could be yours for only $54.99 if you pre-order soon, and if you're lucky, you will receive the extremely limited white vinyl edition.

Also coming soon to a four-LP vinyl set, for the same price, is last year's Mothership anthology. This audiophile-quality vinyl release is scheduled for Aug. 26. Further information on both new vinyl releases from Led Zeppelin is available here.

Auctioneers are also testing the staying power of Led Zeppelin's name when it comes to the resale of unique items once owned by the band members. A drum kit pounded on by John Bonham in his later days is soon to be sold at auction, possibly fetching an amount comparable to the sum recently paid out for a bass guitar and equipment John Paul Jones used in Led Zeppelin's earliest days.

The acoustic bass and accompanying bass stack sold for $27,115 at a Christie's auction in London on July 10, demonstrating the value of the group's moniker.

Bonham's Ludwig Vistalite drum kit, thought to be the only kit of his not possessed by his estate, is to be auctioned Sept. 4 in London. The drums left Bonham's possession when he gave them as a gift to Chris Welch, who later went on to co-author the biography "John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums." Letters of authenticity signed by Welch and Todd Trent of Ludwig's artists relations are listed as part of the lot.

Speaking of Led Zeppelin memorabilia, a fan of the group named Annie Hollinshead has labored intently over the past year to fulfill her vision of having collectors donate some of their memorabilia for a large display to be held at the historically significant Knebworth Field House, commemorating the formation of the band 40 years ago next month. The exhibit, which intends to raise money for the Jimmy Page-supported ABC Trust charity, is set to run daily between Aug. 1 and Sept. 3. For more information, visit

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Additions to Robert Plant's U.S. tour with Alison Krauss no cause for alarm

A fresh set of tour dates was unveiled this week, keeping Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on the road together through the first weekend of October.

Those hoping Plant will take part in some Led Zeppelin activity in the coming months should take note that this latest development ought not be construed as a real hindrance toward that end.

The reality of the situation is we already knew Plant and Krauss would still be on the road at the end of September, supporting their year-old album with a revue including T Bone Burnett and some of Nashville's most talented musicians. Now, they're going to be on the road for all of a week (gasp!) longer than before.

Seriously, this shouldn't greatly jeopardize any projects that may or may not take place next year.

Here are the facts:

  1. The Plant/Krauss show in Saratoga, Calif., planned for Sunday, Oct. 5, is currently the latest scheduled and one of only five West Coast gigs scheduled after a previously announced Sept. 27 appearance at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
  2. Another newly announced date -- Sept. 23 in Kansas City, Mo. -- precedes the previously announced Sept. 24 billing in St. Louis, and a planned second show in that location was recently scrapped (as was the DVD filming once arranged to take place on the stage of the Fox Theatre during that stay).
  3. The four shows in between are to take place Sept. 30 in Portland, Ore.; Oct. 1 in Seattle, Wash.; Oct. 3 at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fest; and Oct. 4 in Kelseyville, Calif.

So, the question as to what Robert Plant has up his sleeve for October and beyond now becomes a question of what his plans will be beginning Oct. 5, when his touring commitments subside. Is it a question Plant is willing to answer today?

No, it's not. At least it wasn't when the question of a Led Zeppelin reunion was posed to him on Monday of this week. Jason Gregory, reporting for Gigwise, says the mention of that topic to Plant during a press conference made the singer feign snoring.

This reported response, which signals his boredom with a frequently broached line of questioning his publicity contacts specifically caution against, is not unlike responses Plant gave last autumn, while he and Krauss hit the road on a publicity tour in the United States and England. Even when the media were counting down the days until Led Zeppelin's one-off reunion concert, Plant welcomed journalists' obsession with that band with bouts of on-air coughing and asking for a blanket. Does anybody remember WNYC?

If Plant is indeed considering any further activity with his willing and able musical partners back in England -- Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham -- committing to it and publicly admitting it is understandably not his top priority these days. His current band is.

The second North American leg of the Plant-Krauss tour returns from a Canadian stop this week and hits Cleveland on Thursday and Lexington on Friday before winding up in Nashville on Saturday.

Those wondering what Plant has on his mind when he's not sharing stages with Krauss, Burnett and the rest, will have plenty of time to speculate on that very soon: Plant has no scheduled appearances for the rest of this month, nor any in August, nor any in three-quarters of September. Lots of time off! How shall he ever spend it?

As for the other guys in Led Zeppelin:

  1. Jimmy Page recently said he has several irons in the fire and will see which project pans out first.
  2. He and John Paul Jones looked and sounded great on June 7 when they surprised the Foo Fighters' Wembley Stadium audience by showing up for Led Zeppelin songs "Ramble On" and "Rock and Roll" in the encore set.
  3. Jason Bonham just showed his continued willingness to play Zep tunes in a concert setting this weekend; he took part in an all-star onstage jam July 5 in Las Vegas, drumming on "Bring It On Home" and "Whole Lotta Love" among other classic and standard blues-rock numbers.

But it is unknown what else these guys are doing with their time, or when they will reveal what else they have already been doing together. The same inside source that is said to have tipped off the Foo Fighters encore to a Led Zeppelin discussion group online is also said to have tipped off the occasion of Page-Jones-Bonham rehearsals of new material a few months ago, while Plant's tour with Krauss was in its earliest days. When will Page, Jones and Bonham own up to that, or deny it having taken place, whichever is accurate?

Or is this the kind of unfinished work that need not be mentioned publicly until it is completed, perhaps by Plant contributing his lyrics and vocals? And isn't there plenty of time over the next several weeks for an otherwise-unoccupied Plant to make this happen?

While Plant evades inquiries about Zeppelin activity by snoring, coughing and asking for a blanket, the rest of the guys aren't saying much on the topic either. They only ask fans just to wait. And the one time a distorted remark from Page was viewed as confirming a Led Zeppelin tour in 2009, Jones came out and quashed the rumor.

A quotation referred to in a Daily Telegraph report in early June was widely misinterpreted, distorted and taken out of context. In the article detailing the partial Zeppelin reunion with the Foo Fighters in London, a comment attributed to Page came not from that weekend but from the moments after the full reunion concert last December.

Page's statement that further Led Zeppelin activity was likely was about six months old. And because the rumor mill took this to be a new quote and a first-hand confirmation of a world tour in 2009, Jones made a point of telling BBC Radio 6 on June 18: "Nobody spoke to the Daily Telegraph after the Foo Fighters' show, sorry Daily Telegraph."

Technically, all Jones did in saying this was refute the misinterpretation of the Daily Telegraph story. He didn't expressly deny Led Zeppelin activity, just that Page had alluded to Led Zeppelin activity in the past two weeks. So, nobody's denying -- or admitting to -- anything!

But the same BBC interview, which also involved Page, only provided more fodder for misinterpretation. In it, the two Zeppelin members present in London to pick up the band's Mojo award for best live show allude to the possible release of that December reunion concert on DVD someday: Page said, "I hope so one day, yeah," and Jones said, "Yeah, I should think one day the DVD will come out, but there is no hurry to do it."

It all sounds very speculative and distant, unless the only words you heard him say were, "The DVD will come out."

And apparently, that's all Gigwise heard when, on the same day, its editors ran their own version of the same comments from Page and Jones but attached the deceptively authoritative headline, "Led Zeppelin Reunion Show To Get DVD Release."

In his article, Gigwise reporter Jason Gregory leads off with a paragraph that says, in full, "Members of Led Zeppelin have confirmed that their recent reunion show in London will eventually be released on DVD." So, it's a done deal? His following paragraphs don't support it.

It's time to conclude this long diatribe about the current state of affairs with regard to Led Zeppelin news. And my conclusion now is still the same as it has been for almost a whole year: Just wait and see.

Gee, I don't know if I needed all the room above just to say that again. Oh well. As long as I didn't distort or misinterpret anything!