So here it is at last on general sale: the 2xCD/Blu-Ray of Zeppelin's now-legendary one-off celebratory reunion performance on 10th December 2007 at London's O2 Arena. The event was to honour the life and work of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun who in 1968 had such faith in a young British band that he backed them with money and a recording contract, and who died aged 83 of a backstage fall during the Rolling Stones benefit concert in October 2006.
Is all the hype about this concert justified? You bet. The performance is indeed worthy of all the superlatives heaped on it, and in every way outstanding.
Having seen the youthful band several times in the 1970s, the initial shock of seeing three guys in their 60s (well OK, in 2007 Plant was 59) - plus the near-perfect-fit Jason Bonham standing in for his long-departed father on drums - on stage together, is swept away once the music starts. From the storming opener `Good Times Bad Times' through two hours of some of their best-known numbers, this is Led Zeppelin, and this band ROCKS. The fast-fingered Page is outstanding; Plant - ever the great showman and commanding stage presence - retains power, emotion, volume and range in his voice even though he avoids the screaming high notes which gave Zeppelin distinctive character in their youth; JPJ is the bedrock for the band both on keyboards and bass, and Jason Bonham almost unbelievably gels with the band so perfectly that he might indeed be his father pounding the skins with power and feel.
Much of the time Page, Plant and Jones stand close together, physically; almost touching each other. The astounding thing is how relaxed they are, how at ease, how professional - and how they simply enjoy themselves on stage so much. The sense of occasion is intoxicating, the numbers powerful, tight, joyous. Plant relaxes and interacts good-naturedly with the audience between songs, the atmosphere that of a celebratory family reunion where everyone is simply having a great time.
Highlights: too many to list. `Kashmir' probably takes the Gold. Awesome.
The 2CD+Blu-ray package is a fine artefact. The cover shows the iconic Zeppelin over London, presented in the slightly archaic style so frequently characteristic of the artwork employed by the band. CD1 displays the time 10.12 on an antique clock-face, on CD2 it's 12.10: the walk-on and walk-off times of the band on the night. Nice touch.
Seeing them play and interact with each other and with the audience is a must, and adds so much to the experience. Many of the frames are close-up and personal, with a front-row audience perspective. You do, however, need to hear the music through a big powerful sound system: play loud.
Some minor points: there is no acoustic set, a standard of the band's stage shows in the 1970s, and the actual song `Celebration Day' - the perfect name for this event - is not performed. These are not niggles, just observations: the whole concert is awesome.
For those fortunate enough to have won tickets, they have the experience of a lifetime, a night to remember. There were tales of ticketless devotees on the night offering more than GB£4,000 in cash for a ticket, and of ticket-clutching fans refusing to sell. They made the right choice. For the rest of us, this is as good as it's going to get - and fortunately, that's pretty darned good. Personally I hope this was Zep's final concert, as it's difficult to imagine they could ever top it, and they go out in style.
Once, giants walked the Earth. Alas, we may never see their like again. But at least we have the record, and what a record it is.