Whole Lotta Zeppelin

“We were all vinyl junkies,” said Robert Plant at a packed press conference immediately following the screening of Led Zeppelin’s new live concert film Celebration Day at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on October 9. Celebration Day chronicles the band’s first full-length concert since the death of John Bonham in 1980: the December 10, 2007 tribute concert at London’s O2 Arena for Atlantic Records founder (and early Zeppelin champion) Ahmet Ertegun. The film sees a theatrical release on October 17 and will then be rolled out in multiple formats on November 19, including a combo Blu-ray/DVD/2-CD set, a 48kHz/24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio-only Blu-ray edition, and a triple 180-gram LP set.

Since I too am an unrepentant vinyl junkie, I asked Zep guitarist Jimmy Page if vinyl was the best way to listen to Zeppelin’s music. “Personally, I never let go of vinyl, even when CDs came onto the scene,” he said, leaning forward in his podium chair. “But what I would recommend to you is that you don’t listen to Led Zeppelin on MP3s, that’s for sure.” Kinda hard to disagree with that “no quarter” assessment. And judging by the response that his answer garnered — a mixture of firm claps, “oh yeahs,” and knowing laughter — the audience seemed to concur.

For the 10 a.m. Celebration Day screening, I immediately found the sweet spot in Theater 1 — row 8, seat 9 — to get the full effect of the live surround mix courtesy of Alan Moulder. Visually speaking, director Dick Carruthers wisely eschewed most of the typical concert-film clichés (backstage interviews, band hijinks, recurring gratuitous audience shots) and focused his 14 cameras on the band and its natural chemistry onstage. By the time they charged headlong into the set’s fourth song, the modernized blues burner “In My Time of Dying,” the mighty Zep was firing on all cylinders: vocalist Plant smiling, shimmying, and slithering; guitarist Page effortlessly tossing off slab after slab of meaty, iconic riffs; bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones deftly anchoring all of the arrangements; and drummer Jason Bonham ably filling the shoes (and, well, hands) of his late father, John Bonham.

All four Zepsters were wearing some form of black clothing, which could have made for some trouble when contrasting with the adventurous stage lighting, but detail was discernable, which bodes well for the visual quality of the Blu-ray release: the studded, crimson sparkles all over Jones’s shirt, the reflections on the studded crosses and patterns on the left front and back of Bonham’s short-sleeve shirt, the folds of Plant’s sleek long-sleeve shirt and Page’s vest, and the creases in Page’s white shirt after his vest is off and his sleeves are rolled up later in the set.

Moulder’s mix — which clearly met with executive producer and chief sonic architect Page’s approval — keeps the stage action mainly upfront where it belongs, but takes to the surrounds when warranted: the O2 audience roars all around you when echoing Plant’s “ahh-ahhs” on “Black Dog” and his long wails throughout “Kashmir,” Page’s corner-directed riffs during the bow sequence of “Dazed and Confused” and the dive-bomb section of “Whole Lotta Love,” Bonham’s massive kettle-drum hits on “No Quarter,” and Jones’ sub-channel thump on the intense, show-closing “Rock and Roll.”

“It still feels pretty good, yeah,” spoke-sung Plant once the band locked into its groove, and for one perfectly captured night in 2007, Led Zeppelin was back, on top of the world, and the song remained the same — no quarter asked, none given.