LONDON -- The magic remains the same.
A generation after they last performed a full concert together, the surviving members of the legendary Led Zeppelin made what can only be called a triumphant return to the stage at London's O2 Arena last night.
Playing for a sold-out crowd of devotees, VIPs and media from around the world, the band -- 59-year-old singer Robert Plant, 61-year-old bassist John Paul Jones and 63-year-old guitarist Jimmy Page, joined by late drummer John Bonham's 41-year-old son Jason -- proved beyond doubt that despite their age, they still wield the hammer of the gods.
Sure, Zep may have been your daddy's rock band, but make no mistake: The British blues-metal icons brought enough swagger, sweat and sheer walloping power to blow most of today's young turks out of the water.
They were greeted like the heroes they are by the wildly enthusiastic crowd of nearly 20,000, who had paid #125 each (about $250 Cdn) for tickets to the concert after beating out millions of fans in an online lottery.
From the opening moments, it was clear they were going to get their money's worth -- and that they were bearing witness to the biggest comeback in rock history.
Kicking off the evening with Good Times Bad Times -- the first song from their debut '69 album -- the band burned through a high-energy 130-minute set that drew from nearly every album in their decade-long career.
Detractors and naysayers who suggested the band might not be able to deliver the same show they did decades ago were quickly proven wrong. Though his hair is now a silver tangle of mad-scientist curls instead of black locks, Page was still every inch the ultimate guitar god, peeling off blistering solos and showing no ill effects from the broken left pinky that delayed the show by two weeks.
A goateed Plant was in equally stellar form -- even if he sang the odd note in a slightly lower register than the banshee wail of his youth. Jones and Bonham held down the bottom end as if they had been playing together for years, with the latter doing a magnificent job of echoing the sound and style of his great father.
The production itself was no slouch, either, with the group backed by a stage-wide video screen and bathed under washes of light from a giant spider-like rig.
You could quibble that it didn't equal the sprawling three-hour shows they used to put on, but as someone who saw them back in the day, let me tell you they were never this tight. And the sound and lights were never this good. And this time, we didn't have to sit through a half-hour drum solo.
By the time it wrapped up after a smoking version of Rock and Roll, the fans most certainly had not had enough.
We can only hope the band feels the same way.
A song-by-song review of last night's Zep show:
Good Times Bad Times: Could there be a more perfect opener? We think not. Even better: They totally nail it -- especially Page, whose solo is nothing short of firebreathing.
Ramble On: Plant seems to be singing a little lower than he used to. Otherwise, it sounded every bit as good as the original.
Black Dog: Ten minutes in and they've started bringing out the big guns. And hitting the mark. Bonham handles the offbeat rhythm without a hitch. And Page reels off another searing solo. Plant doesn't have to work too hard to get the crowd singing along on the, "Ah, ah, ah, ahhhhhhhhh" refrains.
In My Time of Dying: Page switches to a hollow-body electric and pulls out the slide for this serpentine epic workout from Physical Graffiti.
For Your Life: Before the gig, Page told interviewers the band had rehearsed this buried treasure from Presence, which they never performed live before. You'd never know it from this version.
Trampled Underfoot: Jones puts down his bass and moves to the keyboard for this funky number, which Plant explains was inspired by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues.
Nobody's Fault But Mine: Another slow-burning epic, this time from Presence. Plant tells the crowd this one came from the Staples Singers and the Blind Boys of Alabama. More to the point, he plays a pretty wicked harmonica solo.
No Quarter: Jones' trademark keyboard spotlight lasts 10 minutes -- which is about half the length of the epic versions they used to play back in the day. Come to think of it, at eight songs an hour, they're playing about 50% more material than before. Good value for that #125 ($250)!
Since I've Been Loving You: Apparently, they're sticking with the slower groove for a while. No complaints here -- though we are gonna be ready to hear another rocker pretty soon.
Dazed and Confused: "I don't know how many songs we recorded together," says Plant, adding that when they put together their set list, there were some songs that "had to be" included. "This is one of them." Damn right. Midway through, the violin bow has been unsheathed! Page launches into his solo while standing in the middle of a spinning laser pyramid -- exactly as he did on the band's '77 tour.
Stairway to Heaven: It's Stairway. What more is there to say? Except that they pulled it off like champs. "Hey, Ahmet," says Plant at the end. "We did it." Indeed they did.
The Song Remains the Same: Page has pulled out the doubleneck SG. This one seems a little slower than the studio version. But hey, they have been on for 90 minutes. And they are senior citizens.
Misty Mountain Hop: Again, the energy on this one seems to be flagging just a bit. Plant even sounds a little winded. Maybe they should have kept it to 90 minutes.
Kashmir: That thing we said about keeping it to 90 minutes? Never mind. They redeem themselves with this slowly thundering version. "There are people here from 50 countries," Plant says. "This is the 51st country." Jones is on keyboards, but Page does a pretty fair job of bringing the guitar army to life.
Whole Lotta Love (Encore): This one is also a little slower than the studio version -- but in this case, it only makes it sound heavier and more aggressive. Plant tops it off with one last scream that's probably still echoing over the Thames.
Rock and Roll (2nd Encore): They couldn't have closed with anything else. And they couldn't have played it any better than this. Like racers heading for the finish line, they saved one last burst of speed for the end of the race.
The final bow. Or is it?
6 stars out of 5 Yes, that's right.