The piece below was written in the (sleepless) hours immediately after the Led Zeppelin reunion concert last December, for which I was fortunate to get a ticket. Comment is free ran it the following day (click here to see their version with comments). And why not have a listen to the sublime Kashmir as performed that night, while you read:
Despite the promoter's best efforts to brand it the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute, for those of us fortunate enough to be there, last night's concert was about just one band. You can forget Jimmy Page's attempt in a weekend interview the dampen audience expectations: this was the real thing. Led Zeppelin made perfectly clear what all the fuss has been about.
On any other night, the stellar support line-up would have made headlines on its own. Bill Wyman and his Rhythm Kings turned what could easily have been an irrelevance into a fabulous warm up.
Keith Emerson opened proceedings, but flailed at his keyboards without great success. Fanfare for the Common Man was thankfully saved for Aaron Copland's memory by Wyman's excellent brass section. Paul Rogers got things back on track with an electric performance of the classic All Right Now, his voice undiminished by the passing of nearly four decades. And it was a treat to see the great Albert Lee, born just up the road in Blackheath, sing and play. Young enough to be Lee's grandson, Paolo Nutini showed precisely why he has been described as Atlantic Records best-kept secret. A secret no more, his must be the best blues voice to emerge for a generation.
Ronnie Wood, a late replacement for Pete Townshend, who had to pull out when the gig was postponed for two weeks after Page broke his finger, only made it as far as the T-shirts and programme cover, but nobody seemed to notice, or care. And Foreigner, it must be said, were a bit of an aberration on a night which was, by now, building to a climax which only the most optimistic could have dreamed of.
Then the lights went down, and there they were, straight into Good Times, Bad Times, as if they'd never been away.
There had been much speculation about whether they would be up to it after such a long break. Could they possibly reproduce either the energy or musicianship that made them the most adored and successful band of the 1970s? Everyone knew Robert Plant's voice had, if anything, improved with age, but there were doubts over Page's ability on guitar. We needn't have worried. He may not always have been in control of his face, but he was certainly in control of his fingers, and the unique relationship between guitarist and vocalist was evident from the outset.
John Paul Jones couldn't have been more solid on bass, and also reminded us how favourably he compares with the keyboard heroes of that other age, especially during the sublime Kashmir, towards the end of the set, by which time the atmosphere inside this mightily impressive new arena was ecstatic.
On drums, Jason Bonham was a revelation. Hard to believe he'd only been playing with Plant, Page and Jones for a few weeks. He marshalled proceeding with solidity and verve, and showed none of the reticence you might imagine in assuming his late father's mantle. You did him proud, Jason.
They gave us many of the greatest rock numbers of all time: Trampled Under Foot - the perfect homage to Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues. Ramble On, Black Dog, and Dazed and Confused, with Page encaged by revolving green lasers and the rest of the stage dark: unbelievable. The high point for me, although early in the set, and with Page still finding his feet a little, was the unbearably moving In My Time of Dying. (For fans, the full set list is here.)
Sure, everyone sang along to Stairway to Heaven, but the ticket ballot did the lads proud: the vast majority of were obviously dyed-in-the-wool fans of at least 30 years' standing. If only more us still had a head of hair like Robert Plant's to let down.
From where we were stood, in the near-earth orbit of the O2's level four, a few of the words were lost, but it mattered not. The sound was otherwise excellent, the volume just right, and the backdrop projection of the performance with amazing special effects, mixed and edited live, set new standards for stadium rock.
Questions? Was it worth the £125 ticket price? Well, a million punters thought so when the event was announced, and I got the distinct impression that most of those there would happily have sold their granny for the honour. Should a bunch of men in their fifties and sixties get back on stage and try to reproduce the glory days? If they have the material, the energy and the sublime musicianship of Led Zeppelin, then, yes, absolutely. Should they play again? A tiny, selfish part of me wants to say no; let's leave it there, there's nothing more to prove. But who am I to deny such a magnificent experience to others?