There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold...

Here in the age when rock stars like Jagger and Richards are not only still breathing, but are now turning 70—“I’d rather be dead than sing “Satisfaction” when I’m 45,” Mick once said with a straight face—seeing older bands reunite and “play” can be very disappointing. There are some, who shall remain nameless, that I have sworn off of completely. The past can never really be recaptured. And no one escapes the ravages of time. Neither they nor you are as young as you once were.

Before I sat down to write about the new Led Zep concert film, Celebration Day, I watched the old Led Zep concert film, The Song Remains the Same”. Back in that now much–maligned decade known derisively as the 70’s, the creators of Zoso, who were then ascending the stairway to mega–rock stardom, made a movie. Not a concert film exactly but a concert film interspersed with so–called “fantasy” bits, all of which—excepting the utterly ridiculous mafia scene, complete with werewolf, at the film’s opening-—unfold while the band plays tunes from a three night stand at Madison Square Garden in 1973. While Page climbs mountains seeking knowledge in his fantasy sequence and Bonzo races dragsters and plays snooker, Plant’s fantasy, where he’s a knight without the shining armor (probably not in the budget), comes complete with swordplay and damsels in distress, all while “Rain Song” and the film’s title tune play at full volume. Time it seems has even softened opinions of this amusingly amateurish oddity. Now regarded more as a charming curio than the self–indulgent, half–baked nonsense which most critics and many fans pronounced it to be at the time of its release, it’s no accident that This Is Spinal Tap took many of its now famous comedic cues straight from The Song Remains the Same. The opening of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is clearly echoed in the scene of Nigel playing his solos. Or the flavor of Peter Grant’s tirade in the dressing room shows up in the characters of both Ian and Nigel.

Yet the old band reunites phenomena is changing the rules of record listening and in the case of Celebration Day, a concert film boxed with a two CD live record, I held my breath as the opening notes of “Good Times Bad Times” rang out. By the third tune, the ever–unfading “Black Dog,” I was completely in love. Is it that I was so glad to see and hear Led Zeppelin back together, with Jason Bonham who from the forehead down looks more like his father every year, that I am willing to suspend my critical judgment? Are we so damned starved by all these years of No Zep, that some Zep, any Zep, is better than no Zep at all?

I’d like to think my ears, not to mention my brain, still work and the decently though not wonderfully recorded Celebration Day, is genuinely great, both film and records. In my opinion this is first class, top shelf, make–you–want–to–cry Led Zeppelin. The proof lies in the fact that you never even notice the subtle changes that make it possible for this band of almost 70somethings to sing and play this well. Everything is slighter slower and pitched down a step or two to allow Plant to sing it. The screeching high notes of yesteryear are gone. Having a young drummer also helps, as Jason Bonham drives the proceedings with more than an echo of his father’s legendary thump. Even with Jason’s best efforts, it’s still easy to see why Bonzo’s death left the band with such a void they were unable to carry on. He was always Zep’s not–so–secret weapon.

The varied set is a triumph throughout in tunes like “Rock and Roll,” “Kashmir” and a surprisingly sharp, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” where just for a moment the years melt away and the nasty boys of 1973 return with all their youthful ambition and power intact. They are on top and in charge from the first notes. And in the film everyone seems to be having a good time to boot. At various high points during the show, a tribute concert for Ahmet Ertegun, Page and Plant exchange sly smiles that say, `Yeah we still got it!” And aging or not, they still do.

Audio Legend's picture

I think you are a terrific writer. I also dearly Zep...they are truly rock Gods.

But I have to differ on your opinion of the recording.

It sucks. The CD sucks, the 24/48 download sucks.

Thin thin thin...drenched in reverb. ZERO crunch to Page's guitar.

There is a reason this buried for 5 years.

I just read the interview with the mix engineers in SOS. It is cruddy Pro Tools slop.


John Atkinson's picture

Audio Legend wrote:
I have to differ on your opinion of the recording.

It sucks. The CD sucks, the 24/48 download sucks.

I bough the download from HDTracks and listened to it a lot over the weekend. I agree that the sound quality is not what I would have wanted. It isn't even close to "How the West Was Won", lacking openness. And yes Page seems determined to fill in every space in the mix too much of the time. But Jason Bonham's drumming channels his father very effectively and JPJones use of a 16' stop on the Hammond bass line and an equally phat tone on his bass guitar does add magnificence.

Audio Legend wrote:
I just read the interview with the mix engineers in SOS. It is cruddy Pro Tools slop.

Pro Tools is neither good nor bad; it depends on who is using it. I just finished producing a recording project, of a jazz opera. We did all the instrumental tracks straight to ProTools at 24/88.2k at Systems Two studio in Brooklyn, with Mike Marciano engineering, and the vocals straight to Pro Tools at Bill Schnee's studio in North Hollywood. Listening to the final mixes last week, I feel that Pro Tools served us very well.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Jon Iverson's picture

According to the SOS article, JPJones bass track was re-recorded to get that phat sound. They sent the original recorded signal to a bass head and cabinet with single speaker and put a mic on that which is what you end up hearing. They have a photo showing how it was done.

The article also notes that Jimmy Page was present to direct the mixing and rejected the first pass - they massaged the mix until he was happy. According to the article, extra digital reverb was added to "glue" the instrument sound to the tracks of the audience that had also been recorded.

SOS notes that there were over 70 tracks that were combined for the final mix, with quite a bit of tweaking all around. Some new parts were recorded to sweeten some of the sour sections as well.

John Atkinson's picture

I downloaded the article - good grief, what an object lesson in how to screw things up. Compare this saga with how the great- sounding early Zeppelin recordings were made!


Audio Legend's picture

I think the process as described in great detail in the article is a perfect illustration of how a bunch of tin eared meat heads with access thousands of plug in and processors can make one of the most legendary bands in history sound like crap.

70 tracks?? Really? For a 4 piece band???

Read the article about the production of the Stones Shine A Light. Just as convaluted, but that project is a bit better sounding, possibly because the Beacon Theater is a great sonding venue.

Something has gone sadly wrong in modern rock and pop recording.

Audio Legend's picture

The only overdub was Plant correcting some bad notes at the end of Kashmir.

There were no additional musical or vocal overdubs, according to Plant in another interview.

Overall, a little shop of horrors.

Audio Legend's picture

I was actually being kind when I said the recording sucks. Page's guitar is thin and raspy....having seen him live with Plant it sounds nothing like his live rig.

The amount of reverb poured on the whole thing adds fuel the fire. Arenas are cavernous enough.

Having heard audience recordings, and the entire rehearsal sessions recorded via soundboard and leaked a year ago, this is a major, major disappointement.

I agree with you , the shame of it is, they played well. Jason Bonham did a fabulous job.

I did mean to say Pro Tools is intrinsically flawed. But way more often than not it is abused. With the endless plug ins and convenience, something gets lost.

As I said, there is a reason this was shelved for 5 years. It sounded like dog shit.

As a Blu Ray, I can see how it is a very exciting product. But forget the audio.




Audio Legend's picture

BTW, I am a big admirer of Mr Baird's musical taste. But he really takes a big hit to his credibility in even suggesting this is a good recording.

Murray Allen's picture

Thick, heavy syrupy sound. Heard these guys 4 times in their prime. Not even close.

Les's picture

His mix of Richard Hawley's latest was just terrible sounding as well... "Thick, heavy, syrupy..." is actually a pretty good description, all in a bad way.

GuyF's picture

As much as I admire Zeppelin for what they achieved back in their day, the gig was ruined by awful playing from Jimmy. The rest of the guys put in a good performance but even a beginner could tell Jimmy was all over the place. No doubt the die-hard fans and  a few others won't want to point out the fallibility of an aging man but let's be honest, in more than one solo, he was just flailing and it wasn't even good flailing.

Good times, bad times indeed.

jrmandude's picture

Led Zeppelin.  The name itself rings of little understood memories of stumbling forward in an unclear time.  Dark and hinting of the ungood.  We mostly survived, some scarred and some still searching, seemingly no different than others.  This is music that cannot be denied.  By its nature I wonder if some young men had similar unformed emotions when first hearing Ludwig Van Beethoven.  Regardless, these guys rocked out.  That they were ignored or vilified only magnified the feeling.  Who gives a shit whether some revisit sounds good or not, or the show was quality; that was never the point.  I am a better person because I spun Led Zeppelin II and Physical Graffiti on a Sears console, laying with my headphones on the floor.  And I have a story to tell since I was not the one who fell to his death from the balcony.

Rust's picture

....there is no bad sex, just some is better than others. Just put the blu-ray in a decent setup and turn the volume to stun.

I've seen Zep live. The Celebration performance, as a whole, is better than either time I saw them live or the previous filmed performances. On a song to song comparison, it's a little different. But taking into account the entirety of the performance, staging, filming and all, better. At this point, excepting Zep II, side II (for personnal reasons) this may be my favorite.

Sound quality? Well, not having access to the raw tracks I couldn't tell you anything one way or another,  but it's better than most live recordings and I'm damn glad to have it.