From left: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and original drummer John Bonham's son Jason arrive for the press conference for the release of their new concert film Celebration Day. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
On Tuesday night, I went to a Led Zeppelin afterparty. (Sorry, I just had to say that.)
As proven by the hoopla over Tuesday's press conference and premiere of the Celebration Day film -- a straightforward but stunning rendering of their 2007 reunion gig at London's O2 Arena in honor of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun -- the legend, legacy and mystique of Led Zeppelin have barely diminished in the 32 years since the band ceased to exist in the present tense. And the amount of excitement Zep still can generate was reflected by the starpower of the celebrities and execs who turned out for the premiere and/or the afterparty (more on that shortly).
Jimmy Page flashes a smile at the Zeppelin press conference. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
Taking our seats at the Ziegfeld Theater, we found ourselves -- incredibly -- five seats away from Robert Plant, with Jimmy Page in the row ahead and John Paul Jones in the row behind. Page and Plant exchanged a quick word shortly after sitting down but otherwise they just sat back and enjoyed the film; their heads could occasionally be seen bobbing along with the music. Page's hair was pulled back into a short ponytail that gave him a vaguely Revolutionary War-era look.
The Ziegfeld Theater, where the band unveiled the new film. (Photo: Jem Aswad)
In the film, the band is tight, focused and present, tearing through a stellar 16-song set of favorites and deeper cuts covering all studio albums except "In Through the Out Door." Throughout, they show astonishing power and virtuosity in the face of infinite expectations and -- no disrespect -- their age: The two-hour performance shows just how much physical strength it takes to be a member of Led Zeppelin, especially when there's no 20-minute drum or guitar solo as a breather. Plant is singing at full-throttle right up until the end (when his voice is clearly reaching its limit), Page plays more fluidly than he does on many '70s-era bootlegs, Jones emphatically cements his place as one of rock's five greatest-ever bassists, and Jason Bonham is a revelation, recreating his father's thundering beats and fills while adding his own respectful flourishes. The film could, and probably will, act as an instruction video for rock bands.
Page with Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
The afterparty, at Midtown's Monkey Bar, was already in full swing when the band members arrived. There were no drugs, debauchery or flagrant groupies (that we saw, anyway), but there was ample booze and an air of excitement and surrealness that you seldom see at events like this ("That woman looks just like … oh, that is Stevie Nicks") -- let alone the afterparty for a concert movie premiere.
Joan Jett with longtime producer Kenny Laguna at the after party. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
At the party and/or premiere were all three founding members of Led Zeppelin and Bonham (Plant was accompanied by girlfriend/singer Patty Griffin); Nicks, Kiss' Paul Stanley, Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Red Hot Chili Pepper Chad Smith and Joan Jett (who's returned to her early '80s leather-and-mullet look). On the business side, we had Access Industries CEO/ Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik, Atlantic Group co-chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, Warner/Chappell chairman/CEO Cameron Strang, Live Nation NY chairman Ron Delsener, Mom and Pop Records chief Michael Goldstone, GoldVE president and longtime Zeppelin publicist Danny Goldberg, Steve and Harvey Leeds, Big Hassle's Ken Weinstein, Nasty Little Man founder Steve Martin, Warner Music's Will Tanous, Kevin Gore, Paul Robinson, Susan Mazo, James Steven and Bob Kaus, longtime Atlantic alums Jerry Greenberg, Diane Gilmour and Andi Ferrera (with husband Nick), Robert Plant/ The Who manager Bill Curbishley and Trinifold colleague Nicola Powell, VH1's Bill Flanagan, Jimmy Page/Metallica managers Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch (with wife Louise), along with Q-Prime colleague Marc Reiter, longtime Joan Jett manager Kenny Laguna, Rhino's Mike Engstrom and Jason Elzy, and Brad Tolinsky (author of "Light and Shade" collection of 20 years' worth of interviews with Page), who told the story of how Joe Walsh sold Page his now-legendary sunburst Gibson Les Paul for $500 in 1969. (Apparently Page had been saying he needed a heavier-sounding guitar for Zeppelin than the paisley-festooned Fender Telecaster he used in the Yardbirds, and Walsh said, "I had two guitars, so I grabbed the one I liked less.")
Warner power -- from left: Alan Triger (SVP, Research & Analysis), Larry Mattera (SVP, Digital & Revenue Development, WEA), Matt Signore (CFO, Recorded Music), Brian Roberts (CFO, WMG), Mitch Imber (SVP, Account Management & Sales, WEA) (Photo: Jem Aswad)
As for the vibe, let's just say that the presence of Led Zeppelin can reduce even the most jaded industry veterans into giddy teenagers.
Chatter throughout the evening was mostly about the film: How tight the band was and how hard they'd rehearsed for a global-stadium-level performance that they played publicly exactly once -- without even a warm-up show. People who were there recalled how great it was -- Billboard's own Ed Christman, who saw the band on nearly every American tour, told us that the O2 show was the second-best of the dozen times he saw them (check out his song-by-song concert review right here).
Atlantic CEO Craig Kallman poses with Stevie Nicks. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/GettyImages)
There were also many misty-eyed stories about Ahmet Ertegun -- none of which can be reprinted here -- and Atlantic's glory days. Plant rhapsodized about the era that, in the film, he calls "When Atlantic was the greatest record label on the face of the planet." "We made our own rules," he said, and considering that they convinced the label to make a die-cut album cover with a spinning wheel, another in a custom paper bag, and another with symbols for a title, they certainly did. The soundtrack of the evening, when we could hear it, was largely based on classics from the labels catalog ( Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett).
Page and Plant pose during the film premiere's after party. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
As for the real elephant in the room -- you know, the one the band dismissed approximately 50 times during the afternoon's press conference, eventually resorting to words like "schmuck" -- it's hard to imagine that the band would reform again just to roll out the old chestnuts. Plant's weariness with many of those songs is a matter of public record, and while he certainly gave 100 percent during the O2 show, at moments an eye-roll would not have come as a surprise. But reuniting for new music -- Page/Plant's overlooked 1998 album Walking Into Clarksdale, to me, is the great lost Zeppelin album -- remains a possibility, if a remote one.
From left: Jimmy Page/Metallica manager Cliff Burnstein with That Metal Show's Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine (Photo: Jem Aswad)
And personally, I hope Celebration Day is the end for the old songs. Unlike the Live Aid performance or their shaky four songs during Atlantic's 40th anniversary show in 1988, it's hard to imagine them topping the O2 show. It's a classy and fitting way to go out -- paying tribute to the man who did so much to make them what they were and are -- for a band that's meant to much to so many. And somehow, doing it just once makes for an even more fitting coda.
From left: Artist Arena CEO Larry Peryer and Warner Music SVP/Artist Services David Marcus (Photo: Jem Aswad)
Plant poses with Patty Griffin. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
From left: GoldVE president and longtime Zeppelin publicist Danny Goldberg, Warner/Chappell CEO Cameron Strang, and WMG Recorded Music Global Catalog & Licensing CEO Kevin Gore (Photo: Jem Aswad)
Paul Stanley of KISS with his son Evan Shane Stanley at the film premiere. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/WireImage)