Led Zeppelin’s 2007 concert at London’s 02 Arena wasn’t their first reunion since drummer John Bonham died in 1980. The surviving members played a sloppy set at Live Aid in 1985 and a slightly better one at the Atlantic Records 40th anniversary bash three years later. The lucky guests at Jason Bonham’s wedding in 1990 saw a brief, drunken set that included “Custard Pie” and “Rock and Roll,” and five years later the band jammed with Steven Tyler and Neil Young at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.
But the 02 Arena shows seemed like a very different animal from the moment they were announced as a tribute to the late Ahmet Ertegun. While all their previous efforts were staged with little or no rehearsal and lasted little just about four or five songs, this was going to be a full set with a full arena production. They were going to spend months rehearsing and Jimmy Page even worked painstakingly to recreate his exact guitar tone from the 1970s. Needless to say, demand for tickets was off the charts. They probably could have pulled a Michael Jackson and sold out 50 nights at the arena, but they limited it to just one. If you weren’t a major celebrity or a friend of the band, getting in was no easy feat.
In the weeks before the show, the group gathered at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, England to run through the set. A stationary camera caught a lot of the action, though it wasn’t seen until the DVD came out in 2012. It was the first time that Zeppelin had done the song since John Bonham’s death, though it was regularly played on the Page and Plant tours of the 1990s.
The world finally got to see the fruits of the extensive rehearsals on December 10th, 2007. The reviews were ecstatic and a reunion tour (or at least another couple of shows) seems almost inevitable. Sadly, they never played again. “At the time of the 02 show we were led to believe there were going to be more,” Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone in 2014. “You’ll have to ask Robert why he changed his mind. I don’t even know if he considered it. I don’t know what he thinks.” Just hours later, we did exactly that. “A tour would have been an absolute menagerie of vested interests and the very essence of everything that’s shitty about big-time stadium rock,” Plant told us. “We were surrounded by a circus of people that would have had our souls on the fire. I’m not part of a jukebox!”
Last year, the group reunited again. This time, it was in a California courthouse where they successful defended themselves against charges that they stole “Stairway To Heaven” from the obscure 1960s band Spirit. “What was once a steady date becomes a cup of coffee,” Plant told us earlier this month when asked about the experience of being back with them. “That’s basically how it turned out, a cup of coffee from time to time. But nothing intimate.”
He did, however, have pleasant memories of the 2007 reunion at the 02. “It was magnificent,” he said. “We hit a home run that night, which is something that we were really fearful of. There was probably more riding on that than we would care to believe. Our performance was crucial, but we could reproduce sound in a much more reliable way, so we could be kickass, and sound kickass.”