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Still Soaring

The Bradley Center
June 10, 1998

Story by Tony Bonyata
Photo by Phil Bonyata

When Robert Plant penned "The Song Remains The Same" on Led Zeppelin's defining 1973 album Houses Of The Holy he probably had no idea the relevance that those words would hold some 25 years later.
Last Wednesday evening at the Bradley Center, Led Zeppelin's vocalist Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page reunited once again to promote their new album Walking into Clarksdale. This show indicated, however, that what they were really promoting was the monstrous and mystical music of their former band. And let's face it, that's exactly what this crowd of aging hard-rockers and young head-bangers were hoping for.
page/PlantOpening up with a bombastic version of Zeppelin's "Wanton Song" Plant, clad in black slacks, black shirt and full lion's mane of golden locks, proved that his voice as well as his stage presence has not diminished with age. In fact, other than the deep lines in his face, he's in great shape for a man of fifty, looking rather like an aging aerobics instructor for the MTV generation.
With pallor white skin and paunch around his mid-section Jimmy Page on the other hand didn't look quite so healthy , although even in his glory days he probably never graced the cover of Prevention magazine. Page, also dressed in black with decidedly shorter hair, proved that, as far as living up to his larger-than-life guitar god status, he was in tip-top form. Ripping through stunning versions of the Zeppelin classics "Heartbreaker" and "No Quarter" Page played his most famous riffs and solos without seeming dated. On the encore number "Rock And Roll", he happily galloped and skirted across the stage wearing a cowboy hat and his trusty Les Paul, as Plant screeched out "It's been a long time since I rock and rolled..." (and judging from the more than responsive crowd who were on their feet the entire evening, it's been way too long).
Claiming that it had also been a long time since they were in Milwaukee, Plant stated, "And since it's Harley's birthday (Harley-Davidson's 95th anniversary) we're gonna play some Harley tunes for you", and proceeded to rip into the aggressive sludge of their 1969 song "How Many More Times" (complete with Page's "Dazed And Confused" guitar and violin bow schtick). Plant went on to comment later in the show, "Because you've been so good we're gonna play a little country and western motorcycle tune" and promptly blew into "Whole Lotta Love", a full frontal metal assault that was far cry from what Plant had jokingly described a country / western number.
Even though Page and Plant dutifully performed these thunderous nuggets, the show focused more on the lighter side of Zeppelin featuring songs such as "Ramble On", "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", "Thank You", "Gallows Pole" and the fragile acoustic numbers "Going To California" and "Tangerine". It was these songs that help meld in their newer material from Walking Into Clarksdale.
Although the title of the album, Walking Into Clarksdale (Clarksdale, Mississippi being the mecca of the blues) would indicate a return to their Delta-blues inspired influences, the new album instead shuns the blues in favor of straight ahead rock. That's not to say that they've forsaken the hammer-of-the-Gods thunder they pounded out as Led Zeppelin. Songs such as the mysterious "Shining In The Light" and the Middle-Eastern spiced crunch of "Most High", both of which were performed that night, seem to fit very comfortably into the Zeppelin catalog.
The strong setlist also helped cast a spotlight on the other band members. On the title track "Walking Into Clarksdale" drummer Michael Lee, who was also on their last tour, filled the gargantuan shoes left by the late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham as he pounded his kit with a finessed, powerful frenzy. Phil Andrews' spacey keyboards on "No Quarter" was reminiscent of original keyboardist / bassist John Paul Jones' style and his blinding mandolin playing on "Gallows Pole" was a pleasant surprise to the audience. While never commanding attention, bassist Charlie Jones, nevertheless, provided a solid bedrock of rhythm throughout the evening.
Even though, for the most part, this show was steeped in the past, both Page and Plant have managed to inflate this old dirigible and give her at least one more proud flight.
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