Robert Plant and Jimmy Page

Lakewood Amphitheater, Atlanta 5.29.98

"It's been along time since I rock and rolled," goes the line in the Zeppelin song, and it was true enough May 29th, when Robert Plant and Jimmy Page brought their Walking Into Everywhere tour to the Lakewood Amphitheater. In my case, it was twenty years ago, when I, as a wee lad, stood in the rain outside Rich's department store hoping to get a ticket to a Led Zeppelin concert. I didn't, and ended up paying $50.00 for a scalper's seat, way up in the top of the Omni. I loved it.

So two decades later, I found myself sitting in a shed on a rainy night in a seat that listed for $55.00, to see a concert by people whose music I hadn't listened to in years. I didn't pay for the tickets this time, and I wasn't expecting much out of the show. After being subjected to tours by the likes of the Rolling Stones and others from that era, whose attempts at masking boredom and wrinkles with fireworks and inflatable dolls left me cold, I expected a pair of plodding, weak-voiced has-beens playing for the money. What I got was an exciting, dynamic, musically tight show that highlighted all the strengths the pair had to offer.

Opening with "The Wanton Song" and going into "Bring it on Home" without a pause, the band thundered in the muggy night. Robert Plant looked far younger than his 50+ years, and was in vintage Zeppelin voice, still able to screech like an alley cat when needed. Jimmy Page, while not looking particularly well (okay, to be honest, we thought he was gonna keel over at any moment) was alternately delicate or raging on guitar, proving why he's still considered one of the masters of the genre. Mixing seasoned Zeppelin favorites such as "No Quarter," "Tangerine," and an incredible "Gallows Pole" with material from their new album, Walking into Clarksdale, they sounded confident, energetic, and like they were having a blast. While I'm sure there are moments when Plant and Page look behind the drums and feel the loss of Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (whose death brought about the end of the group), they didn't show it.

Remarks from Plant onstage mentioned that it seemed to him that this show was the largest crowd of the tour, and from fan reaction on the internet, the general feeling is that this was the best show as well.

The new material, while not receiving the same strong crowd response as the older songs, seemed to fit in well, with "Most High" being a standout. Its pre-recorded Middle-Eastern drum track was primo '90s funky in a hip-hop way, and Page's snaky guitar lines weaving in and out of the mix almost make me want to get the new record just to hear it again. And from a guy who hasn't bought a "rock and roll" record in about a decade, that's saying something about the talent these men possess.

What separates Plant and Page from other hacks of the hard rock sixties and seventies is that their vision has never wavered. You would be hard pressed to call the Stones that made Exile on Main Street the same band as the one who forced out Bridges to Babylon last year, and most others of that era have suffered the same fate. Why is it that jazz musicians seem to improve as they age, while rockers get more and more ridiculous? Plant and Page, since Zeppelin broke up, have kept their music alive by building on their foundation, instead of tossing it off at the first chance for a bigger paycheck. Of course, Jimmy Page is on the Godzilla soundtrack with Puff Daddy, so maybe my theory needs some work. But on a hot night in Georgia, I didn't see no dinosaurs.
Note: This was the first piece I had published in Ink 19 magazine. 

© James Mann 1999

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