When you grow up in and around rock n' roll, Led Zeppelin is one of those bands that is engraved on your heart. If you grew up when they were first hitting the charts, then you also know how special the band is, and if you were one of the lucky ones, you got to see them in their heyday. For those of us who either never saw them for whatever reason you have, or you simply weren't alive at the time (which is the case for me), the dream of seeing them has long since passed and has just become a harsh dose of reality to swallow.
Everyone prays they'll do one final tour, but that dream keeps slipping further and further away. For obvious reasons, it wouldn't be the original four masterminds that form our beloved Zeppelin. The passing of drummer John Bonham completely broke the chances of another full blown world tour happening. For a moment, with the release of 2012's Celebration Day, showcasing the band's 2007 show at London's O2 Arena, the dream came back into everyone's skulls. However, with the constant rumors (and even realities) of vocalist Robert Plant seeming to scoff at the idea, the dream was squandered yet again. The one thing Celebration Day showed every Led Zeppelin fan though, is that John Bonham's talents were still present here on Earth, and that the magic of Led Zeppelin was still very much alive, through his son Jason Bonham.
A few years later, it was announced that Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience would be coming to Las Vegas for three days at the House of Blues. Needless to say, it was a moment that we did not want to miss. I mean, it's probably the closest thing any of us are going to get here to the real thing live, and at this point, we'll take it.
I walked into the House of Blues, feeling my heart pounding in my chest as the anticipation grew for Bonham and his bandmates to hit the stage. It wasn't long before the lights dimmed down on the venue and the band took the stage. I wasn't sure what exactly to expect as far as songs went, or as far as the rest of the band's sound, but man... I could have closed my eyes and been at any Zeppelin concert in my head. Yeah, it was that amazing. Opening up with "Good Times, Bad Times" off of Led Zeppelin I, the crowd bobbed their heads and sang along. I will fully admit that when vocalist James Dylan walked on stage, I was curious how he'd sound. Of course I wanted it to sound like Plant, and man did he nail it. The awesome thing though is that he wasn't trying to sound like Plant. He was just singing, and singing really fuckin' well at that! It was announced by Bonham later on in the show that Dylan was fighting a case of bronchitis and to please excuse him if he sounded off or his voice cracked. During the climax of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" though, ZRock'R photographer Ski Bassham and I looked at each other and literally said, "What bronchitis!?" There were times you could see in his eyes a slight worry that he may not hit this next note, and during almost every instrumental break, you could see him grab either his water or his throat spray. I felt bad for the poor guy singing his heart out up on that stage, and came to the conclusion that his illness may have been the need to cancel the Sunday performance which was due to feature mainly songs off of Physical Graffiti. During the song, you could see the excitement of the other members. Guitarist Tony Catania even brought out the bow to play on his guitar, in the style of Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
Prior to playing the next song on the list, Bonham spoke of how many children were conceived either at Led Zeppelin concerts or after to the song. As the opening chords were played, a kissing couple standing in front of us couldn't help but catch my eye and make me think, "And there's the next happy parents to conceive to it!" I couldn't help but think of how many wedding dances had happened to the song, of how many guys throughout the decades plucked on their guitar and sang to their girlfriends, or of a childhood friend of mine who always said it was our song. "Thank You" of off Led Zeppelin II filled the walls of the venue, and I pulled out my phone to post "They're playing our song!" to her. I felt overcome with emotion at the beauty of hearing it played live.
Next up came "Dazed and Confused". Following the song, Jason spoke of how emotional it always was for him to play the tune, which was obvious while watching him. At a couple points in the song, you could literally see him change. It was almost as if the spirit of his father took over to play through him. He even broke his drumstick halfway through the song, continuing to play with only half a stick without missing a single beat. It was very powerful to witness.
There were a lot of really cool stories shared by Bonham throughout the course of the show. He spoke of his six week long rehearsal schedule with his father's former band mates, and how exciting it was to hear all of the old stories (and even some new ones that he said could never be shared) from the point of view of the men who lived through it. We're all familiar with the story of John Bonham hacking up a hotel room with a Samurai sword. Come to find out, Jason had asked the band about the story and if it were really true. "It is true." one of the members had said. "But it wasn't your Dad." As Jason told the story, he couldn't help but chuckle, asking his dad's mates who did it. According to Bonham, a little voice in the back said, "It was me." There stood Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. He had chopped up the room with the Samurai sword and slipped it into John Bonham's hand as he slept. Awaking from his drunken state, he believed it to be him that had committed the act. As Jason said, "It's always the quiet ones you have to look out for." It made me wonder if bassist Dorian Heartsong was as similar to Jones in personality as he was with his playing.
Then came the song that pointed out everyone in the crowd who was a Lord of the Rings fan. The crowd went absolutely wild, and the voices rose high during "Ramble On". The voices in the crowd were not the only thing rising high in the crowd during this tune though. The familiar smell of marijuana hit my nose, and I couldn't help but think to myself, "Now this fits my imagination of a Led Zeppelin show even more!" One guy next to us was equally excited about it, exclaiming "I smell it, but no one's passing!"
Another song came and went before Bonham grabbed the microphone again. He seemed unusually excited for the next song to come, stating that they hadn't played live until a couple nights before the Vegas show because they didn't think anyone would want to hear it. All he said was that it was off of In Through the Out Door. The opening to "All My Love" began, and I couldn't help but smile and begin to dance a bit. I rarely dance at shows, but there was just so much emotion throughout that I couldn't help it!
After another tune came another story. Bonham started out by saying that everyone knows that Zeppelin was full of musical geniuses, especially one of the greatest in the world, John Paul Jones. You never expect drummers to write songs or come up with song ideas. He spoke of how you'd think that a drummer writing a song would just be something to stick on the fridge. Immediately, the Family Guy skit of Ringo Starr writing a tune, and the rest of the Beatles kind of poking fun, saying they'd put it on the fridge so they could always see it. What came next was not what I expected. I had no idea that the idea for one of Zeppelin's most iconic songs, and needless to say one of the best songs in rock n' roll history, was formed in the brain of John Bonham. The band broke into the opening chords and lines of Physical Graffiti's "Kashmir". Again, the crowd went into a frenzy. I found myself singing loudly and dancing along to the beat, not even realizing at first that the person I was accidentally bumping into with my dancing was another well known drummer. Bobbing his head along to the tune as well was Black Sabbath and Dio drummer Vinny Appice. Having met Appice before, I didn't want to bug him, but it was still pretty cool to share an experience like that with him.
Next up was the first Zeppelin song I ever learned on guitar. It is a song that anyone who loves rock n' roll has on either a compilation tape they made, or has performed or sang along to at some point in their lives. We all like to say it is one of the most over-played tunes in the genre, having been covered by everyone from the Foo Fighters to Heart at the Kennedy Center Honors, to being the butt of jokes in movies like Wayne's World, but let's face it- it wouldn't be played often if it wasn't absolutely amazing. Led Zeppelin IV's "Stairway to Heaven" began, and it was like an unearthly energy taking over the venue. I don't think anyone expected it to be one of the last songs of the night though.
The band left the stage, leaving people in the crowd to look completely confused. What was originally supposedly a three hour set, was cut short at roughly an hour and forty-five minutes, leaving rumors circulating that Bonham's arm had seized up or become injured. The band returned to the stage to play their final song of the night, another favorite tune off of Led Zeppelin II, "Whole Lotta Love".
Despite the set being cut short, at least to the crowd's understanding, it was still one of the best concerts I've ever gotten to witness with my eyes and ears. Of course, there were songs I wish I could've seen them do, such as "The Rain Song" and one of my personal favorites, "No Quarter", both off of Houses of the Holy or "Achilles Last Stand" off of Presence, but I know we can't hear everything or we'd all be there for 24 hours, if not more!
I know in my heart that I will never get to see Led Zeppelin take the stage in front of me, but at least I can say that I was able to witness one of the most amazing drummers in the world play tunes that literally flowed through his blood. Should Jason and the rest of the guys in the Experience bring the show back around these parts, I will definitely be in attendance, and I will continue to dance and sing.
All photos © Ski Bassham / ZRock'R Magazine