On Dec. 10, 2007, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited for their first full-length concert in nearly 30 years. Later released as a live CD/DVD package called Celebration Day, the heavily anticipated performance took place during the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at London’s O2 Arena.
In reality, “heavily anticipated” is putting it mildly. Since John Bonham’s death in 1980 and the band’s subsequent breakup, Zeppelin’s three surviving members (guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant and bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones) had only gotten back together on a handful of occasions, and the results were always less than stellar.
Their brief set at 1985’s Live Aid (featuring Phil Collins on drums) was a total disaster, ruined by Plant’s strained vocals and Page’s fumbling, out-of-tune guitar. The trio joined forces with Neil Young and Aerosmith at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1995, but the performance was musically and socially awkward. (Accepting the award, Jones thanked the other for “finally remembering my phone number,” referencing a then-recent Page-Plant tour without him.)
So, the stakes were high. Fans, critics and probably the band members themselves viewed the concert as their on-stage swan song. The demand for tickets was immediate and jaw-dropping: The 20,000 or so available tickets were sold through an online lottery system, with one million people registering (and subsequently crashing the event’s website).
The remaining Zeppelin trio brought along Bonham’s Jason, who’d previously played drums with the band in 1988 at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert. The 16-track set ranged from early psychedelic-blues (“Dazed and Confused”) to hard-hitting mid-period classics (“In My Time of Dying,” “Rock and Roll”) to more obscure later-day gems (“For Your Life,” “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”). There were hiccups – Page’s muddy guitar tone on “Ramble On,” his fumbling through “Black Dog” – but the highlights (“Stairway to Heaven,” “Kashmir”) were downright thrilling. It was further proof that even B-plus Zeppelin still could eclipse pretty much every other rock band on the planet.
Both Page and Jones expressed interest in mounting a full-blown reunion tour, but Plant remained adamantly against the idea. Besides, as Page noted in a talk with Rolling Stone, Plant was busy with other projects. “So, what do you do in a situation like that?” Page lamented. “I’d been working with the other two guys for the percentage of the rehearsals at the O2. We were connecting well. The weakness was that none of us sang.”
They kept busy with other things. Plant has released a series of well-regarded solo albums, while Page set about remastering the band’s back catalog, wrote an autobiography and made a handful of one-off stage appearances – including a performance of “Whole Lotta Love” with Leona Lewis at the 2008 Olympics. Jones, meanwhile, was the most musically active, forming the hard-rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Josh Homme and Dave Grohl, collaborating with Glen Phillips and bluegrass stars Nickel Creek in the Mutual Admiration Society, and releasing an avant-garde album under the Minibus Pimps banner, among other things.
With each passing year, the possibility of another reunion seems to dim: Plant continues to shoot down the idea at every opportunity. If it never happens, however, at least we have the memory of this final triumph as a latter-day reminder of what once was.