The Magic of Led Zeppelin

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I’ve never seen Led Zep live. Today was the closest thing I’d ever get to see them live. The concert that we saw today was mostly a collection of the best of the Zeps. It was performed by a motley crew of American musicians – vocals, guitar, bass, drums – just like the much-revered band, plus a violinist (both electric and acoustic, a Stradivarius apparently). The rock band configuration was rounded-off by the very-accomplished Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, under the tutelage of Brent Havens, who’s also touring with the band, I think. The show was dubbed The Music of Led Zeppelin. The MPO Hall was made in heaven – the design, the sound, the lights, everything. It’s right up there with the likes of The Royal Albert Hall. It’s just smaller and more personal.

I was not expecting to see a performance that was on-par with the real Led Zeppelin. What we witnessed was what I had expected. Plus.

At the start, there was a minute of silence in memory of HM370 and MH17. It was so quiet, I swear you could’ve heard a pin drop. The show kicked-off when Mr Havens announced that ‘This is a rock and roll concert. You can make some noise.’. That loosened up the otherwise sombre, sober crowd in the plush MPO hall. The average age of the crowd was probably 50. Sixty-percent were mat salleh.

The band began convincingly with Good Times, Bad Times. They then did Ramble On.

Then came what to me was the highlight of the show – the Rain Song. Everything came together on this tune – the12-string acoustic guitar (played by the tragically-named vocalist Randy Jackson), the rock band, the orchestra, the lights, the sound. It was magical. The embellishments by the string section was too beautiful. I’d even venture that it was better than the original! OK, OK, calm down now Zep heads, I take that back.

That was the only song when the band came close to the original. That is not saying that the band was not up to scratch. Far from it. It’s just that it must be so dang difficult to be as good as the real deal. If you take into account that Zep was just one singer, two guitars and drums, it does make you realise how really good those boys were. And man, how did four guys manage to produce that full muscular sound of Kashmir?

Kashmir was next on the playlist. It was disappointing. The loud abruptness of the intro fell short. And Powell Randolph was no match for John Henry Bonham’s macho drum sound. Two Randolphs might have done the job though. And Randy the vocalist just couldn’t reach some of the highs. It was nonetheless totally enjoyable.

The band then did Black Dog and Since I’ve been Loving You. The Ocean was commendable. During the 20-minute ‘Interval’, I met two guys – one about 50, the other maybe 20 – who both came alone. Huge fans, and there were probably many more in the audience just like them.

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They then played The Song Remains The Same and Going to California. Before Dancing Days, Randy asked for a ‘volunteer’ from the crowd, without mentioning what the said volunteer was supposed to do. When one Dominic came up on stage, the conductor Brent made him ‘conduct’ the orchestra. It was quite amusing, but it did make me think – Do you really need a conductor for an orchestra? And a pretty good version of the song it was. All the tunes up to then had stayed very close (too close?) to the originals.

Then came Moby Dick, perhaps the only Zep no-vocals song. It’s essentially a drum solo display, always had meant to be that. The 7-minute or so drumming further highlighted the drummer’s inadequacies, versus the late Messrs Bonham. But then again, you are comparing him to one of the best drummers ever lived.

All My Love, I just found out, was about the unfortunate death of Robert Plant’s son, that gave the song the extra emotional edge for me. For Heartbreaker / Misty Mountain, the band let George Cintron, the lead guitar man, cut loose a little bit, which was great, although the guitar should have been mixed a little higher. The band ended the set with Whole Lotta Love, with both Randy and Russell Falstad the violinist doing custom improvs, which was nice. That was the end of the gig, according to the formal programme.

Then came the encore, the first song was Immigrant Song – many kids know this as the Jack Black song – from the School of Rock movie. And finally, just as everyone had expected, a beautiful, beautiful rendition of Stairway To Heaven. Of course they had to play it and of course they had to play it for the encore. I mean, can you imagine a Prince concert without Purple Rain?

All in all, it was money well spent. I’m glad I went. Oh, I didn’t mention the bassist was Daniel Clemens. He did a very decent job of all the songs. The team of about 50 accomplished musicians did very well, but they were still no match for the original 4-man band. Thank you MPO, thank you Brent Havens, Randy Jackson and the rest of the gang. And thank you Led Zeppelin for allowing us into your world of magic.

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