You might think it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations, but, it transpires, the opposite is in fact true of Led Zeppelin’s first public appearance in 17 years.
They seem buoyed by the deafening roars that greet their every twitch tonight – everyone present in the O2 Arena is willing their performance to the realms of greatness. It’s almost impossible to be subjective, to not be sucked in.
It takes Robert Plant three songs before he offers a cursory “good evening”. By that time they’ve alreay blasted through an incendiary ‘Good Times Bad Times’, a dramatic ‘Ramble On’ and the stop/start rhythms of ‘Black Dog’. He needn’t say anything.
Next they launch into ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ and Zep are smiling at each other, only occupying about six square feet of the enormous stage. You wouldn’t believe this is a band who haven’t played together for so long.
They do ‘No Quarter and they’re locked in as tight as if it were the 1970s. Only the close ups on the screen at the back give away their advanced years.
Next they launch into a version of ’Dazed And Confused’ that seems to last forever – but every last second is enthralling.
Jimmy Page is lit up by lasers and at the song’s climax Robert Plant yells out “Jimmy Page on electric guitar!” in a moment that resonates right back to their first gigs in the late ’60s.
’Stairway To Heaven’ follows. Ridiculous in many ways, it’s still a song that everyone present thought was fated to only be performed by dodgy pub covers bands and not again by its creators.
Jimmy has the double headed guitar, bassist John Paul Jones is sat at a keyboard and Plant – contrary to the pre-gig rumours – is singing beautifully.
Playing this well-known classic proves a shrewd move, as it gently reminds everyone present just which giant-sized rock band they’re dealing with.
The final half-hour is comprised of songs so omnipresent it’s hard to make any sort of tangible judgment.
’Kashmir’ finishes the main set sounding incredible before the band take a bow and they’re gone.
Rapturous applause follows as you might expect, but its nothing compared to the sheer mania that greets the first encore song ’Whole Lotta Love’. Not many bands have one of those, you see.
The middle section veers into space rock territory any young band would be proud of, and when that riff returns its… well you already know how it goes.
Then Led Zep blast through a second encore of ’Rock And Roll’ – paying tribute to their old mentor and the reason that this concert is taking place, Ahmet Ertegun, on the way – and, well again… you know how it goes.
If there were sceptics here tonight – there weren’t but just for the sake of argument consider it – Led Zeppelin silenced them and banished any rotten memories of their shambolic Live Aid reunion.
More importantly, though, what they have done here tonight is prove that they can still perform to the level that originally earned them their legendary reputation.
We can only hope this isn’t the last we see of them.
Hamish MacBain, NME Live Editor
Led Zeppelin played:
‘Good Times Bad Times’
‘In My Time Of Dying’
‘For Your Life’
‘Trampled Under Foot’
‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’
‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’
‘Dazed And Confused’
‘Stairway To Heaven’
‘The Song Remains The Same’
‘Misty Mountain Hop’
‘Whole Lotta Love’
‘Rock And Roll’
A longer review will appear in next week’s issue of NME.
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