Although they're meant to evoke the glories of the past, reunion tours more often end up reminding us of just how much time has passed since the breakup, and how much further popular music has moved along. At best, they offer a certain nostalgic kick, but has any reunion ever rekindled the original flame?
Sure. In fact, that's precisely what Jimmy Page and Robert Plant did during the two-night stand at the USAir Arena that ended last night.
Even though the tour isn't billed as the re-launch of Led Zeppelin -- and, in fact, does not include original Zep bassist John Paul Jones -- that's what most fans came expecting. Nor did Page and Plant disappoint. From the joyful swagger of "Ramble On" to the juggernaut momentum of "The Song Remains the Same," the duo did their best to resurrect the free-flowing virtuosity and communal intensity that made Led Zep a legend.
But that wasn't all they did. Although most of the show was
devoted to classics from the Zep catalog, there were some outside offerings as well. Perhaps the most surprising were a spirited sprint through the Coverdale-Page tune "Shake My Tree" and an ominously beautiful reading of the Cure's "Lullaby." There was also a stunningly exotic rendition of Plant's solo hit "Calling to You," which capped searing guitar solos by Page and ex-Cure guitarist Porl Thompson with a wacky detour through "Light My Fire" and "Dazed and Confused."
While some of the older tunes were played straight, others took on entirely new colors. Both "Four Sticks" and "Kashimir" were given the full Middle Eastern treatment, as the surging rhythms of the original arrangements were augmented by the strings and percussion of Hossam Ramzy's Egyptian Ensemble (a trick Page and Plant introduced during their "Unledded" MTV special). "When the Levee Breaks" went in an entirely different direction, opening with a lengthy, medieval-flavored hurdy-gurdy solo by Nigel Eaton before reconfiguring itself as a sort of psychedelic bluegrass. With Page playing the familiar slide licks on acoustic guitar, it sounded little like the recorded version of the song, but it felt every bit as invigorating.
Still, the heart of the show lay with Led Zep oldies like "Gallows Pole," "Black Dog," and "Tangerine" -- songs that every fan there had heard a thousand times, yet that somehow managed to sound just as fresh as when they were new.