Monday, December 28, 2009

From 2000 to 2009, an indispensable decade in the Led Zeppelin story

A slightly amended version of the following piece originally appeared in an edition of the Enzepplozine electronic newsletter. For your free subscription, visit Enzepplopedia Publishing.

The presence of Led Zeppelin in the 21st century, so far, is definitely felt, despite the band having been largely absent in the most real sense since John Bonham's death in September 1980. The drummer would have turned 60 in May 2008. Meanwhile, his surviving band mates all surpassed this milestone age one after another: Jimmy Page in January 2004, John Paul Jones in January 2006 and, finally, Robert Plant in August 2008.

Page has adopted a new look, his silver hair now pulled back into a pony tail or, on occasion, dangling at shoulder length over a typically black ensemble. At the same time, he still has a youthful smile. Part of Plant's wrinkled face is now hidden behind a distinguished full beard and mustache. He now opts for boots and covers his chest a lot more than in previous decades, but his hair is still long and flowing, just as in days long gone. Jones, whose appearance changed often throughout the 1970s, has over the past 10 years settled on a short, trimmed haircut. With the publicity he is currently getting, his age-defying face is becoming more of a household icon than ever before.

The public appreciation for Led Zeppelin has significantly advanced over the past 10 years. For one thing, it is hard not to notice that Led Zeppelin shirts have been all the rage among teens. The steady flow of books dedicated to the band has given way to a tidal wave of them in the past three years, helped in part by the buzz accompanying official band activity in 2007 as well as the more recent 40th anniversaries of Led Zeppelin's formation and debut album.

Magazines' treatment of Led Zeppelin has also improved. Most notably, it was in 2004 that Rolling Stone magazine, which had been famously unsupportive of the group decades earlier, made a long overdue turnaround and began producing a positive reassessment of Led Zeppelin and its music. Other publications expressed similar sentiments toward the band's influence, with Q Magazine boldly declaring on its March 2005 cover that Led Zeppelin is "The Most Important Band In The World... Today!" Two years later, all over the world, coverage of and reaction to the group's final reunion concert were overwhelmingly glowing.

On the musical front between 1990 and 1999, we witnessed the remastering of the entire Led Zeppelin catalogue, several comprehensive box set releases, the emergence of BBC Sessions, and a further compilation of the band's best studio moments. Likewise, the current 10-year period has not failed to deliver.

Technological advances finally allowed Jimmy Page to complete, much to his satisfaction and that of tireless fans, the long-promised chronological live set, simply titled Led Zeppelin DVD but with stunning visuals of the band at its multiple career peaks. Issued simultaneously in May 2003, How the West Was Won was a triple set that has been regarded as one of the best live albums ever released. Impressive sales greeted the November 2007 release of Mothership, yet another double-disc compilation of studio material. Also that month, the debut of Led Zeppelin's music on the iTunes platform presented the same great material to the first online generation. The Song Remains the Same was also revisited at that time, with new versions of the movie (on DVD and Blu-Ray) and its soundtrack being released in a whirlwind of official activity all under the group's banner that also included the launch of a proper official Web site.

The activity above all coincided with new achievements in the enduring legacies of the individual members.

Jimmy Page took to the road with the Black Crowes on a highly successful collaborative tour in 2000 that highlighted a surplus of Led Zeppelin material performed well. Their work together the previous year was documented in the double album release Live at the Greek. The tour was sidelined by Page's injury, and he has since refrained from hitting the road for prolonged periods. His selective appearances, however, continue to make a splash, whether it's the ringing of the opening bell on Wall Street in 2005 or his ongoing ventures to raise money for street children in Brazil, such as at a fundraiser held last month in Rio de Janeiro. He took on a brilliant role being one of three guitarists featured in It Might Get Loud. The film documentary was completed in 2008, and Page attended its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of that year. It debuted publicly between August and October 2009 and is new to DVD and Blu-Ray this month. In August 2008, Page brought "Whole Lotta Love" to the world stage at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, celebrating the Games' planned 2012 arrival in London.

John Paul Jones spent 2000 completing a victory lap of touring in support of his first true solo album, Zooma, released the year before. He was back on the road again in 2001, this time singing with his band (even on a tasty version of Led Zeppelin's "That's the Way"), while also debuting some new material in advance of its release the following year on his second album, The Thunderthief. He remained a viable musical force throughout the decade, with production credits including Uncle Earl in March 2007 and Sara Watkins in April 2009, plus appearances sitting in with Julie Felix in 2001 and 2002, Robyn Hitchcock from 2005 to 2008, numerous bluegrass acts all in one day in 2007, Ben Harper in 2007 and 2008, Gov't Mule in 2007 and 2008, the Allman Brothers Band in 2008, and Sonic Youth in 2009. All eyes were fixated on Jones in a big way during the second half of this year as he treated the world to his hard-rockin' new all-star band, Them Crooked Vultures, which spawned a self-titled album in November.

Even more active over this period has been Robert Plant, who debuted a new band called the Strange Sensation in April 2001 and collaborated with them on two albums: Dreamland, released in July 2002, and Mighty ReArranger, released in May 2005. For all of Plant's activity over the whole decade, that second one was his only disc of all new material in the period. He also saw fit to release a career-spanning set called Sixty Six to Timbuktu in November 2003 and a comprehensive solo box set called Nine Lives in November 2006, which prompted the remastering of his entire back catalog as released between March and April 2007. With the Strange Sensation, Plant embarked on conventional tours and even released the first live DVD of his solo career, Soundstage, in October 2006. Yet what seemed to give him the biggest thrill was the artistic freedom that allowed him to circumnavigate the globe with guitarist Justin Adams, such as to play a tribal music festival in the Sahara Desert of Northwest Africa in January 2003, a memorable gig in the Arctic Circle in June 2005, and a world music festival in the United Arab Emirates in April 2009. Meanwhile, Plant's biggest success this decade came as he found a new muse in Alison Krauss and a new guide in T Bone Burnett. As a result of their highly successful and award-winning album Raising Sand, released in October 2007, and their subsequent world tour of 2008, Plant and Krauss became two of the most recognized "it" celebrities of the time.

While the world certainly saw plenty of joint concert appearances from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant between 1994 and 1998, the 2000s had only one such concert with them performing as a duo. Held in July 2001, the event was a tribute to Sun Records, which was approaching its 50th anniversary. In October 2004, they marked the 10th anniversary of No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded with a remastering of the album with bonus tracks and the first release of the accompanying film on DVD. Surgery reportedly kept Page from participating in another planned appearance with Plant in June 2006; this would have been a tribute to Ahmet Ertegün, whose untimely death was six months later.

They certainly made it up to him the following year by reuniting with John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, and blasting out an amazing two-hour performance under the Led Zeppelin banner during a spectacular concert held in Ertegün's honor. Also featuring several other Atlantic Records mainstays, this London show took place during the week of the first anniversary of Ertegün's passing. With Jason Bonham gloriously filling in for his late father, Led Zeppelin's performance of Dec. 10, 2007, provided a fitting farewell from the band, if indeed that is how it was intended. Fans all over the world still hope to see the concert officially released for home viewing, especially since it appears rather unlikely that further reformations of the group will take place, despite universal desire and those dogged, undying rumors of a reunion being staged for the Glastonbury Festival next June.

In the months following that one-night Led Zeppelin reunion in December 2007, ramblings of Jones, Page and Bonham secretly rehearsing together turned out to be correctJones and Page surprised an outdoor audience of 86,000 Foo Fighters fans at Wembley Stadium in June 2008 by turning up for an encore set of two Led Zeppelin songs, as released on a DVD set and a Blu-Ray set in November 2008 and even televised in January 2009. Ironically, it was a hint not of a band to come pairing Jones and Page but Jones and Dave Grohl, although nobody knew it at the time. There was an attempt to form a new band featuring Page, Jones, Bonham and a singer of their choice. While management insisted their line-up was never intended to be called Led Zeppelin, their insufficient declaration largely fell upon deaf ears within the mainstream press, which wrongly characterized the grouping as being an intended Led Zeppelin reunion with a Robert Plant replacement. Plans to unleash their band were subsequently abandoned.

As a fitting coda to this development, singer Myles Kennedy granted me an exclusive interview just this month, one year after their rehearsal sessions took place. He detailed once and for all how his involvement came about and what it was like writing lyrics and melodies on top of new riffs and rhythms written by musicians he refers to as "the masters."

With all that has happened over the past 10 years, and despite the things that didn't happen, this has absolutely been a great time to be a Led Zeppelin fan. Whatever the future holds, I look forward to it unfolding in time, with the enduring notion that "all will be revealed."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated prior to publication. Comments will not be published if they are deemed vulgar, defamatory or otherwise objectionable.