Celebration Day is the concert film of Led Zeppelin’s two hour set at the 02 Arena back in 2007. The Gods of Rock have so little footage of them in their 70s prime that they don’t release films, unlike the Rolling Stones who seem to release a new documentary every year these days. Zeppelin’s reputation was built on their lengthy live performances; their songs would sound different every night and to call them the greatest ever live act is no stretch once you’ve heard the album, How The West Was Won. They toured more and for longer than most bands of their era, so it’s only fair we get another concert film from them after the brilliant The Song Remains The Same.
Although it’s named after one of their least inventive tracks, Celebration Day is nothing less than a triumph. Their set features many of their most well-known tracks, albeit sans acoustic section as there was in the mid-70s when their set would stretch well into its third hour. The quality of musicianship is consistent and excellent, particularly drummer Jason Bonham (son of the late and great John) and Jimmy Page, whose guitar playing became sloppier in the late 70s due to a heroin addiction.
Opening number, ‘Good Times Bad Times’ is a little flat, though the opening chord strikes are a brilliant introduction to those unfamiliar with the Hammer of the Gods. ‘Ramble On’ is where the set really picks up though, its hypnotic rhythm demonstrating the light and shade of their music and showcasing Robert Plant’s vocal stylings. His voice is as iconic as the riffs, bringing conviction to ‘Black Dog’’s lyrics which would be fake and verge on parody in any other vocalist’s hands. Plant’s best is in ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’.
Heavier versions of songs that were rarely, if at all, played live during their heyday, such as ‘Trampled Underfoot’ and ‘For Your Life’ are definite highlights, but there are many obvious selections that are omitted entirely (‘Over The Hills And Far Away’, ‘Communication Breakdown’, ‘Immigrant Song’). The song everyone would expect to hear, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, is unfortunately the worst of the night due feedback running through it.
‘Kashmir’ is the perfect set closer. All four give absolutely everything; a true testament as to why their music has stood the test of time after decades – because it transcends all genres. And still they reward us with a couple of encores: a brutal rendition of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, a song they seem to never get wrong and the best of the night; ‘Rock and Roll’, whose lyrics are more pertinent than ever as the screen behind them displays shots from their younger days.
Dick Carruthers’ cinematography is decent. There are some cheap tricks, such as use of focus during quieter sections, but his finest contribution is at the start where a TV report of them from the 70s plays to the hush of the crowd as the credits roll like the calm before the storm. Shots such as a low angle of Page silhouetted by a stage light, close-ups of Plant, or the dolly shots revolving around John Paul Jones on keyboard during ‘Trampled’ are memorable enough and are well interspersed with occasionally grainy, letter-boxed images from the audiences’ POV.
Celebration Day is a rare glimpse into one of Led Zeppelin’s legendary live shows and will probably be the last. It also serves as an advertisement to younger generations of how great they were and still are. You can see the range of their music from delta blues, to stomping funk, to Arab march through country and psychedelia. Forget the Rolling Stones with Crossfire Hurricane, we all know who really is the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band.