For One Night, Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

by Max Bryer | 12/4/07 12:56am

I would sell my soul for Led Zeppelin tickets. Are you listening, Satan? Good, because this is not a drill. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, Led Zeppelin, probably the most iconic rock band in the history of the art form, is getting back together for a one-off benefit concert in honor of Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of their record company, Atlantic Records.

This reunion is positively the biggest thing to happen to rock and roll in recent history. If they brought Jimi Hendrix back to life, maybe that would be cooler -- and that's only because mastering resurrection would open whole new worlds of scientific opportunity. What we're dealing with here is a reunion of dinosauric proportions. I never in my wildest dreams ever thought this would take place.

"So what" you say? Rock reunions are a dime-a-dozen. If you spit in any given direction you're bound to hit some band from yesteryear whose members have decided to pretend they like each other long enough to make a quick buck. Hell, the Stones hit the road every other year so Mick Jagger can dance on stage for two hours while the rest of the band -- especially Keith Richards -- looks decidedly underwhelmed to be going to the same party for 40 years. Yet, the tickets sell through the roof; and at prices that would -- and should -- make a grown man blanch. So what accounts for the popularity of these reunion tours, and what makes Led Zeppelin's so special?

The answer folks, is quality. Bands like the Rolling Stones, The Police, Van Halen, etc. are able to successfully tour -- in some cases repeatedly -- for the same reason that people still listen to Mozart or Beethoven or watch "The Godfather." There's an objective sense of artistic quality and timelessness to the music that has allowed it to find listeners who weren't even born when "Brown Sugar," "Message in a Bottle" or "Running with the Devil" were written. Sure, personal taste has something to do with it, but there's a very good reason why we still listen to the Beach Boys and not Herman's Hermits or the Monkees; or Motley Crue for that matter. The inherent quality of the most successful of the currently touring, classic bands creates a nostalgia effect that overrides the obvious realization that seeing the Rolling Stones in 2007 is not seeing them in 1967.

To the devotee of this golden age in popular music -- and if you watched "Almost Famous" and like me, became transfixed by Russell's speech about things being "real," then you're one of 'em -- this is beside the point. Not to mention, for the baby boomer demographic in attendance, these concerts offer a unique opportunity to experience their favorite bands while not high on acid, dancing naked, in a mud puddle.

However, what sets the Zeppelin reunion above the horde is somewhat elusive, which I suppose is fitting for a band that didn't release singles, make television appearances or treat with the press in any significant way, yet still managed to become the one of highest selling bands of all time.

Everything about Led Zeppelin in its prime carried with it a cloud of mystique. Their concerts, regularly in excess of three hours in length, were explorations into unknown wavelengths of the musical spectrum in which songs often sounded nothing like their recorded versions. Indeed, most of the band's fans didn't even know what the musicians looked like -- a phenomenon that seems utterly alien in the age of Internet-induced super-exposure. The decision to do a one-time gig in London rather than an entire tour adds a degree of respectability to the proceedings that the umpteenth Stones tour lacks. Led Zeppelin won't be coming to a city near you; the faithful will flock to them. While this might seem obnoxious to the uninitiated, such a move generates the sort of epic grandeur that should be a Zeppelin copyright.

Furthermore, a reunion seemed, for the longest time, nothing short of impossible. Led Zeppelin called it quits in 1980 when drummer John Bonham died of asphyxiation -- on his own vomit, in true "Spinal Tap" fashion (they dusted for it) -- and despite numerous offers over the intervening years to reunite for enough money to make Solomon blush, the remaining members have refused to appear under the Zeppelin name for a full concert. It is telling that the proceeds of this reunion will go to charity, not the band members' pockets.

Indeed, ever since I first played my mother's LP of Led Zeppelin II, way back in my freshman year of high school, I've been listening to the band religiously, but with the assumption that their music could only be experienced through the studio albums and numerous bootleg concerts I've collected.

This performance, so often dreamed of, and for so many years withheld, is like some sort of tantric release. Will Jimmy Page's guitar playing be not quite as inspired as on Houses of the Holy? Probably. Will Robert Plant have some trouble replicating his siren wail of 1969? Definitely. But no matter. This concert possesses an aura that overrides all else. So, once again, Satan, if you're reading this, you know where to find me with my tickets -- I'll even pay the airfare.