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Friday, November 19, 2010

Bonham and Son Always Planned to Play Together - Maria Brading Gorshin

REVIEW: Jason gives emotional explanation for a show which is less a tribute to Led Zeppelin and dad John and more a communion of celebration

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience
Plaza Theater, Stamford, CT

By Maria Brading Gorshin

The Led Zeppelin experience – that unleashing of raw power that took place each time the band hit the stage between 1968 and 1980 – will never be replicated. Still, Jason Bonham’s version of the phenomenon is a show not to be missed.

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience is tagged as a tribute, but it is more like communion, worship and celebration. The Plaza Theater in Stamford, CT, swarmed with life-long Zep enthusiasts, all as giddy as people over 30 ever allow themselves to appear – and maybe slightly embarrassed to be older than we ever expected to be.

Before Bonham took the stage the audience was drawn into his life with scratchy home movies of John as a child and Jason as a chubby-faced boy.

Too much reverence may have been the reason the entire audience stayed glued to their seats, non-reactive, for the first two songs. Fortunately, Bonham – an unabashed showman and generous performer – knows how to bring people to life. With a bit of gestured coaxing the crowd began to shed its collective shyness and the party was soon underway.

His band reciprocated with mind-blowing renditions of Zeppelin classics. Bonham moved between thunder and subtlety with ease, as in command of the music as a man born with a built-in metronome – one funny movie clip proves that beyond any doubt. Vocalist James Dylan matched Robert Plant note-for-note (a super-human achievement) and lead guitarist Tony Catania embodied Jimmy Page. The relentless thump and bump of Michael Devin on bass kept the Experience rolling all night long while Stephen LeBlanc (guitar, pedal steel and keys) provided magic and nuance to the music.

The highlight of the evening was an emotional drum solo duet between Bonham and video footage of his father. His voice quavered as he explained the pair had always expected they’d one day play together. The audience stood as he spoke, expectant of what was to come.

He stepped behind his drumkit, clearly overwhelmed, swiping his head in a gesture that spoke to the intensity of the moment. Then he let loose a scorching rendition of Moby Dick, playing alongside his father on the Bonham tour-de-force.

If there was any doubt that Jason could deliver a performance to match John’s, it was put to rest with a dazzling display of power, precision and speed. The crowd’s reaction was a roar of pure joy and tribute. Throughout the audience the glow of lighter flames (not cellphones) met the end of the song.

If the first half of the show was worship the second half was celebration – and it felt personal. Bonham’s powerhouse playing, his obvious joy at performing the music, his humility in the face of Led Zep’s grandeur combined with his affection for the audience lent the rest of the night a house party feel. The once-staid audience was on its feet until the end: a moving mass of love and, I’d say, gratitude.

The only hiccup came in the second half during Kashmir, when Dylan’s voice seemed to slip. It seemed as if the song would derail – but with a comical wave of eyebrows and a grin, Catania defused a moment noticed by few. Dylan erased that barely-there incident by following up Kashmir with a perfect channeling of Plant for Whole Lotta Love.

Never again will we see the loose-limbed majesty and swagger of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page as they were in their golden youth – lions stalking the stage, assured of the power of their music, certain of the magic they possessed. Never again will we witness the animal instincts of a natural-born shaman behind drums – rhythms seemed to come through John Bonham as much as they were played by him.

But those who attend Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience will hear all of those elements and be carried away by much more.

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