Jimmy Page and Robert Plant
America West Arena
May 10, 1995
"This can't be a Led Zeppelin show. I feel so safe."
So remarked an ASU teacher's assistant sitting next to me, and he was right--it wasn't a Led Zeppelin show. It was a night of the oldies! And for the oldies, as well: The average age of audience members was somewhere near 40, and the mood was calm and safe, fun for the whole family. Hardly the frenzied, dope-stoked gangs of rabid fans that would have turned out for a Zep gig 20 years ago. But that probably makes sense. Time has passed for Jimmy (who now resembles Marty Allen) and Rob, just like for us mortals, and everybody's grown up a bit.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a wimp, by no means looking for an altercation. Rather, I wanted to be overawed, blown away with the same ferocity as if I were seeing Led Zeppelin in 1975. Back when the blimp boys ruled over the rock minions and the level of excitement that followed the band from city to city was seismic. And with that excitement usually came, well, unbridled violence.
To be a Zeppelin fan once meant risking bodily harm just for the chance to gawk at your heroes. Fans waiting to buy tickets for the band's Physical Graffiti tour got so antsy waiting for the box office to open that they threw some poor kid through a plate-glass window. No ticket outlet would touch Zeppelin after that, meaning your chances of getting to see the show were in the laps of a mail lottery and the scalpers.
It's hard to imagine anyone getting thrown through a window to see Page and Plant at this stage of the game, especially since many in attendance were sporting souvenir tee shirts from last year's big nostalgia ticket--the Eagles reunion.
Though P&P wasn't billed as an evening of Led Zeppelin, there were plenty of tee shirts that read "Page/Plant" on one side and "Led Zeppelin 1995 Tour" on the other. Apparently, Jimmy and Rob wanted it both ways, basking in the glow of their former megastardom and, at the same time, exploring new musical horizons--which consisted solely of a handful of Moroccan musicians' re-creating a few Zep chestnuts.
Wisely, they started the proceedings with a triple blast of Hard-Rock Required Listening: "Night Flight," "Bring It On Home" and "Ramble On." The crowd truly came alive on the latter's chorus, singing every "ma-ma-ma" that Plant neglected. Yet the lighting crew kept turning the houselights up so often during this number that you almost expected Plant to shout, "Come on down! You're the next contestant on The New Price Is Right!"
The cigarette lighters came out in full force early on for "Thank You," the Zep ballad currently being butchered by Duran Duran at a record retailer near you. Funny enough, the Zep fans were a lot like Durannies of yore, saving their loudest cheers for the video screens. During Page's solo, the camera operators utilized cheesy, Video 101 kaleidoscope effects, multiplying Page's fretboard by four until it made a perfect guitar rectangle! Page was genuinely pleased as the crowd went apeshit, standing there grinning for a good 20 seconds just soaking it up. Forget "it's the singer, not the song"--these days "it's the cameraman, not the guitar solo."
The first of many acoustic numbers the pair performed was a kick-ass rendition of "Gallows Pole," during which some thirtysomething couple in front of me was inexplicably making out. Imagine yourself staring moon-eyed into your sweetheart's face and saying, "Darling, they're playing our song" to the strains of "hangman, hangman."
Then came the hurdy-gurdy man, singing songs of love, literally. Nigel Eaton unleashed some terrific sounds with this exotic instrument, but the soda-and-snack traffic in my row during his stint was unbearable. By now, the audience established a standing procedure it would adhere to for the rest of the evening--rise for the oldies, and sit down for everything else. It was then that I got my only taste of danger that evening--an oafish drunk nearly stepped on my toe.
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If anything comes out of this Page/Plant album and tour, it's that Led Zeppelin III, the only album released during the group's lifetime to less than universal acclaim, is finally getting its due. The Phoenix Symphony was trotted out to perform on that album's centerpiece, "Since I've Been Loving You." While the mix of blues and strings worked wonderfully on the UnLEDed album, you could hardly hear them sawing away above Page's piercing lead lines and Plant's insistent yammering--"Yes, it's a drag, yes, it's a drag, drag, drag, d-d-d-drag." One Yamaha DX7 could've approximated the same din as the symphony players. Still, if they worked for scale, it was probably cheaper than enlisting John Paul Jones and a Mellotron. Incidentally, there was no mention of either Jonesy or John Bonham anywhere during the show, yet all the while their parts were painstakingly re-created by the present rhythm section with great accuracy. The local string section fared better on a perfect "Friends," "Four Sticks" and "Kashmir," especially given the added sweetening of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
"Do you feel it?" Plant kept querying the audience, but what was he talking about? The comfort of the beefed-up security? The feeling of discovery and displacement while grooving to mind-bending Egyptian scales? The oddity of seeing a 47-year-old man yelping into a heavily harmonized mike and faking an orgasm with himself?
Once upon a time, the very words "rock 'n' roll" meant a call to arms for the young. So what if it's now a last call for youth from the elderly? It didn't stop some middle-aged wreck behind me from yelling "Rock 'n' roll!!" the whole night. When the band launched into "The Song Remains the Same," which featured some fine fingerwork from axman Porl Thompson of the Cure, it was easy to forget that you were watching a bunch of mere mortals up there. On that number, they were gods. And if nostalgia had a lot to do with feeling that way, so be it. Everybody present seemed to want it both ways, too.
The arena emptied without incident. No one threw a lighted firecracker onstage, although bassist Charlie Jones did get pelted with one of those green neon bracelets and Plant got a purple bra to add to his collection--"I shall always remember Phoenix as a purple place," he cracked. And I swear I could hear that guy still screaming "Rock 'n' roll" as I was pulling out of the parking garage.-