Rock of Ages: Ronnie Lane Benefit Show Brings Out Clapton, Beck, Page, Stones

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Despite the ensemble's most strenuous endeavors, however, there were still some rough spots by the second show in San Francisco: no surprise, perhaps, given the perilously brief rehearsal period that preceded the tour. Clapton's set that second night lacked force — it must be years since he's opened a show, and the lack of built-up audience energy to feed off of took its toll. Andy Fairweather Low, whose early band, Amen Corner, had one of the bluesiest British hits of 1967 with "Gin House," turned in a fine reading of "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," and Cocker, backed by Claptons unit (with Fairweather Low on rhythm guitar), turned in unaffected, if unexceptional, versions of such past hits as "You Are So Beautiful" and "Feelin' Alright." The high point of the show was Jeff Beck's effortlessly masterful set, which featured superbly controlled sonic displays by Beck, ferocious drumming by Simon Phillips and a crystalline reworking of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready."

Equally fascinating, in its own funky way, was the off-the-wall set by Jimmy Page, who hadn't played in public since the last Led Zeppelin tour, in 1977. As Kenney Jones later remarked, "He's probably one of the bravest among us — he's really putting himself on the line."

Page's set was a triumph of style over substance. With Beck and his keyboardist, Jan Hammer, cleared out, a small white spot opened up on the right of the stage, and suddenly, there he was: cigarette pasted to his lip, a cascade of black curls tumbling down over his eyes — the very picture of wrecked rock-star elegance. First, he removed his long white scarf — to resounding applause, of course — then the various rings on both his hands, and then he rolled up his sleeves and set to work. Had he played not a note, the audience would have been with him anyway. But he picked up his black Telecaster and, leaning back in classic Zep fashion, proceeded to dig into "Prelude," a haunting instrumental piece from the soundtrack of Death Wish II, which Page scored. After two more mysterioso instrumentals — an arcane form at which Page is an unquestioned master — he brought on Paul Rodgers, the former lead singer of Bad Company, a band that recorded for Led Zeppelin's Swan Song record label. Page and Rodgers have been collaborating recently: after an acceptable flail at "Boogie Woman," a tune off Rodgers' recently released solo album, Page sat down with a Danelectro — one of the great cheesy guitars of all time — and began diddling out a long and haphazardly organized "work in progress" that, according to Rodgers, who wrote the lyrics, will eventually be called either "Midnight Moonlight" or "Bird on the Wing." This piece was, to put it tersely, a rambling disaster. It was followed by a supremely flaky instrumental rendition of the epochal "Stairway to Heaven," toward the thrash-crazed end of which Beck and Clapton strolled out and attempted, as best they could, to join in. Page appeared to be on another planet.

The finale was direct and effective: Clapton peeling off the intro to "Layla," with Beck and Page chiming along and Wyman, Cocker and the rest of the crew pitching in, too. Cocker did a strong "With a Little Help from My Friends," and then Ronnie Lane, dressed in a plain black suit, with an assistant holding each arm, made his way to the front of the stage. "Thank you very much," he said. "What do you think of my friends?" The house erupted in thunderous applause, and Lane and the entire company launched into a strong and charming version of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene." Almost three hours, and finis.

It was not a totally satisfying show, partly because the individual talents sometimes, of necessity, had to be subservient to the ensemble sound. But there was still one more show to go at the Cow Palace, and who knew what might happen then?

Saturday dawned dark and windy. There had been a party the night before at Bill Graham's elegant digs out in Marin County. No members of the press were allowed, but according to all reports, it was a relatively restrained affair: a certain amount of the traditional stimulants, music by Stax/Volt, plenty of curry — but, according to Joe Cocker, "not enough booze." Still, some revelers didn't make it back to their hotel until seven the next morning.

More judicious souls spent the day shopping. Macy's made a pile off this tour, and so did Wilkes Bashford, the city's ritziest clothing store, where Kenney Jones picked up some sports jackets and Eric Clapton went for shoes, some Giorgio Armani shirts and a Kieselstein-Cord belt — lizard with silver buckle — of the sort that retails for anywhere from $335 to $6500. That may be the most titillating backstage fact let of this otherwise decorously conducted tour — with the obvious exception of anything Jimmy Page was up to in the long hours he spent in his hotel room. There were the tiniest intimations of tension between Clapton, who kicked a debilitating drug problem more than a decade ago, and Page, about whom such a thing has never been said. But when asked how he sees Page and, for that matter, Beck after all these years, Eric is intentionally obscure: "I think their characters have become very clear — have become compounded."

At the end of the show each night, when the rest of the musicians would mix backstage, Page would climb directly into a waiting van and be whisked back to his hotel. This was the most in-demand session guitarist in London in the mid-Sixties — a man credited with playing on early records by the Kinks, the Who and half of the rock acts that set foot in a studio — and yet here he is twenty years later and he can't get invited to a Yardbirds reunion. And when he finally does set foot onstage after a six-year layoff, he whips out a near-solo instrumental version of "Stairway to Heaven" and another song that's not even completed yet. The man is a mystery.

"This tour has got him moving again," says Ian Stewart, who's fond of Page, "and I hope he can find something to do after this. It's a shame that he just sits at home and does nothing. He seems to miss John Bonham very much; but at the same time, I think he'd like to play. It's just that . . . maybe nobody asked him for two or three years; I don't know. Jimmy's pretty laid back, really. He's still very interested in music. He's always coming up with obscure things, like classical things and Bulgarian folk things. We had a big natter the other night about Django Reinhardt guitar solos. So the interest is still there; he just needs a bit of motivation."

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