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Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day

On September 25, 1980, the Buffalo Evening News ran a full-page advertisement, announcing a November 1 performance by Led Zeppelin at the old War Memorial Auditorium. Unfortunately, by the time readers saw the ad, news was already spreading that John Bonham, the band’s drummer, had died in England that morning—after the band’s first rehearsal for the tour—the result of a fatal drinking binge. The tour was cancelled. By December, the remaining band members announced they were breaking up.

Hardcore fans were devastated. During the album-rock era, no other band carried the same kind of mystique as Led Zeppelin. Their unique sound, a thundering hybrid of American blues, rock, English folk, and Middle Eastern drones, seemed to leap from the speakers of FM radios across the US, and by the early 1970s they were smashing attendance records set by the Beatles.

Aside from a disappointing reunion of the surviving members at the 1985 Live Aid concert and a few reissues, Led Zep fans have had little to be excited about since Bonham’s death. Then, in the fall of 2012 came the release of Celebration Day, the concert movie compiled from footage shot during a 2007 performance at London’s O2 arena, which was held as a benefit for the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund—named after the late, legendary Atlantic Records chief who released the band’s early records. This one-off show featured Bonham’s son Jason on drums, and it holds the record for “Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert” according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Twenty million requests for tickets were received online for just 16,000 available seats.

The hype was not overblown. If there are any live recordings of Led Zeppelin that are superior to this show, I’m unaware of them. True, the characters in the band have obviously aged since the early days when singer Robert Plant could hold legions of teenage girls under his spell through the strength of his personality and tightness of his jeans—but the chemistry and musicianship on display here show a more mature sort of magnetism. Those who have only experienced Led Zeppelin live thanks to the sometimes-hokey 1976 concert film The Song Remains the Same will appreciate the muscular production by Metallica sound engineer “Big Mick” Hughes, as the band hammers its way through favorites like “Dazed and Confused,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Kashmir,” and, of course, “Stairway to Heaven.”

Celebration Day is being shown at the Amherst Theater this Saturday at midnight—the second in a series of “rockumentaries” that runs through March 2.

Watch the trailer for Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day

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