Last night (Dec. 10) in London, one of the greatest bands of all time was back in front of its adoring public, if only for two-plus hours. Led Zeppelin’s 16-song set at London’s O2 Arena came as part of a benefit for late Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, the group’s first full show since drummer John Bonham’s 1980 death.
Zeppelin stormed the stage just after 9 p.m. local time with “Good Times, Bad Times,” from its 1969 debut album, and followed with “Ramble On,” “Black Dog” and “In My Time of Dying.” (For a full review, click here.)
“For Your Life,” which the band never performed live in its heyday, was next, with “Trampled Underfoot,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “No Quarter” and the epics “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You” and “Dazed and Confused” carrying into the show’s second hour.
“It’s peculiar to think of creating a dynamic evening and choosing songs from 10 albums, but there are certain songs that have to be here, and this is one of them,” frontman Robert Plant said before the latter. And when Page broke out his trademark double-necked guitar for “Stairway to Heaven,” thousands of lighters were held aloft.
As the show barreled towards its conclusion, Zeppelin unveiled “The Song Remains the Same,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Kashmir.” The encore featured the staples “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock and Roll.”
Surviving members Page, Plant and John Paul Jones had only played live together a handful of times since the death of Bonham, who was replaced last night by his son Jason.
Page’s guitar was crisp and clear from the outset, but Plant’s voice was blighted by feedback. By the second song, the microphone was functioning properly and Plant was growling and snapping just like he used to.
Page swung into “Black Dog,” with Plant teasing the crowd while the guitarist chopped left and right with industrial power. Classic blues chords summoned a long and dynamic delivery of “In My Time of Dying,” as the years truly began to melt away.
There is rampant speculation Zeppelin will play additional shows in the New Year, but so far, the principals are staying mum. “Let’s just do the O2 and we’ll see what happens from there,” Page told Reuters in a recent interview. “I haven’t got a crystal ball here and nor have you.”
A host of top industry executives were present on Monday, including Warner Music Group’s Lyor Cohen, AEG Live’s Randy Phillips, Best Buy’s Gary Arnold, Apple’s Jeff Jones, Rhino’s David Dorn and Control Room’s Kevin Wall. Dave Grohl showed off his Zeppelin tattoo and proclaimed, “I’m so excited. One of the best nights of my life.”
Earlier in the evening, Foreigner performed its hit “I Want To Know What Love Is” with the St. Luke’s Church of England choir from Portsmouth, saying, “If it wasn’t for Ahmet, none of us would be here.” Ex-Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman and his Rhythm Kings were on stage beforehand, with vocal assistance from Paul Rodgers and Paolo Nutini.
By mid-afternoon, the scene at the venue was frenzied, with a 500-strong line for merchandise and huge waits at the will call windows. At a soundcheck on Sunday, select lucky fans were allowed to watch Zeppelin trying out a number of the songs that wound up tonight’s set list.
The event was a magnet for celebrities and rock stars, including Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Kate Moss, members of Oasis and Genesis, Steve Winwood, Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley and Marilyn Manson.
Net profits from the concert will go to the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund, which provides scholarships for gifted children. For more Led Zeppelin coverage, visit Billboard’s Jaded Insider blog.
Reporting by Ray Bennett, Ed Christman, Tamara Conniff and Mark Sutherland in London.