Friday, October 2, 2009

Study into the trend of rock reunions includes Led Zeppelin's 2008 no-go

Led Zeppelin's will-they-won't-they saga of 2008 has become the stuff of legend. The news of yesteryear has become the history of today.

Financial Times reporter Ludovic Hunter-Tinley reports from a rehearsal of the pop group Spandau Ballet, the focus of the article's introduction is on the band's collective decision to mend its wounds in favor of a long-awaited reunion tour. A few paragraphs after this focus is established, Hunter-Tinley shifts the thrust of the article to concentrate instead on other groups that have been under pressure to reunite.

Enter Led Zeppelin, along with fellow classic rockers Pink Floyd, the Police and Genesis, as well as Blur, Spinal Tap, and pop acts like the Spice Girls and Take That.

The writer says the Led Zeppelin show in December 2007 was a success:
"... [T]he sense of history was extraordinary. From the moment they opened with “Good Times Bad Times”, it was clear that the sexagenarian hard-rockers still had the old magic. On the train afterwards, fans compared the distances they had travelled to be there: one had flown in from New Zealand."
The writer then details what can happen "when a reunion fails to spark." One member of Spandau Ballet, singer Tony Hadley, offers how "embarrassing" it is to see "49-year-old guys trying to look 25."

When the writer approaches the subject of "questions of authenticity," Led Zeppelin comes up again. The band that headlined the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert on Dec. 10, 2007, was Led Zeppelin but with Jason Bonham on drums instead of John Bonham, Hunter-Tiney asserts, making exception for "purists" who "insist" that the band was not Led Zeppelin.

The writer turns it into an issue of expendability: It's OK to replace John Bonham, but it wasn't OK for Robert Plant to be replaced when he didn't want to participate in a tour at his age. There's even a quote from Plant on the subject: "The whole idea of being on a cavalcade of merciless repetition is not what it's all about."

As for Jimmy Page, last year he said it best: "If you're going to have a reunion, you need four members." It was the perfect thing to say at the time. It was September, and Plant had not yet issued a statement leaving himself out of the running. Page's spare words on the subject resounded in the following months as it was suggested he, Jones and Bonham would carry on with another singer. Maybe Page never meant Plant had to be involved; maybe he was intentionally being ambiguous because he thought somebody else could be the singer if Plant wouldn't step up to the plate! It sure got me thinking.

Ultimately, it was revealed that they didn't want to call their band Led Zeppelin, and Plant once even made the point of saying Led Zeppelin would not exist without him. (Perhaps he knew they wouldn't because he'd filed a craftily worded preventive injunction or a demand of excessive royalties should they replace him and use his songs! Theories, people! Theories!)

Regardless of anyone's best intentions, a large segment of the press insisted on using the Led Zeppelin name when referring to a potential grouping of Page, Jones and Bonham, even with another singer. The public at large saw it the same way, and the outcry against a Led Zeppelin reunion without Plant even prompted other notable people -- Jeff Beck and his manager, promoter Harvey Goldsmith, to name a few -- to speak out against dishonoring the Led Zeppelin name with another singer.

It was much the same for the members of Yes last year, when they first attempted to go on the road with a singer other than Jon Anderson to play concerts under a name other than Yes. The only name promoters wanted to use was Yes, and so it became another Yes tour.

One has to think that Page, who was spotted at one of the early concerts with Journey's latest Steve Perry clone, paid careful attention as last year's situation with Yes unfolded. Perhaps it's one factor that led him to decide against going out with three-fourths of the band that played as Led Zeppelin and use another singer.

Nobody has disclosed publicly exactly who made the decision last year to halt singer auditions and call off whatever project had potentially been in the works even after Plant had withdrawn from Led Zeppelin reunion considerations. It seems likely that Page made himself aware of what else was going on in the musical landscape enough to know even a new band with Jones and Bonham could affect Led Zeppelin's historical image.

Hunter-Tinley notes, "A full Led Zeppelin tour would ... have done stratospheric business."

One obvious end result of this is the way John Paul Jones has quickly bounced back, emerging in the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. He's at another point in his career when he's earning all sorts of praise, not the least of which comes from drummer Dave Grohl. Jones was spotted at the Austin City Limits festival this afternoon playing mandolin on three of Sara Watkins's songs, when he'll later take the stage with Them Crooked Vultures. Grohl is going to make certain that Jones holds a reputation of being a versatile musician who can rip on mandolin "and just blow your head off."

Another end result is the way Jason Bonham has also bounced back. He quit his steady gig last year, touring with Foreigner, just in case he might be called into the prospective project with Jones and Page that never materialized. However, 2009 has already seen him sitting in with a number of acts and making other appearances. He's billed to show up at a Slash and Friends gig in Las Vegas tonight (Update: This did not come to fruition as he had apparently dropped out of the lineup at some point), and then there are some other gigs coming up, including one just announced today.

It's Oct. 11 at the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., "Rockstar Karaoke" featuring singer Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath, Kelly Hansen of Foreigner, Lemmy from Motörhead, Trevor Rabin of Yes, and others. Proceeds are to benefit the Painted Turtle, a camp for seriously ill children. Tickets are on sale here.

Page has been making the movie "It Might Get Loud," and he's been busy promoting it and saying he has something else planned that he has to start on in 2010. Apparently, it's not an autobiography; this much he revealed last month while he attended a book launch by -- who else! -- Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. But a new musical project, Jimmy? I hope so. I really, really hope so.

Plant, when he's not talking about a new album with Alison Krauss, has been collecting awards and occasionally singing Led Zeppelin songs onstage without Page, Jones and Bonham. We'll see what else the future may hold for him!

But meanwhile, specific details of the recent past remain no clearer.

1 comment:

  1. This is possibly insane, but since Plant clearly seems to want no part of a reunion, I think Page, Jones and Bonham should tour with a non-superstar but accomplished female vocalist who could do the Zeppelin catalogue in the original registers. Not just an accomplished singer or a pretty face, but someone with deep artistic credibility and a respectful but aggressive approach to covering older material.

    Two who come to mind are Feist and Cat Power. I would give the nod to Feist, who is a formidable guitarist in her own right, opening up all kinds of possibilities.

    Having those songs sung by a woman like Feist or Cat would, shall we say, put a whole new spin on things.

    Just saying.


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