By now you’ve probably read about what happened onstage during Led Zeppelin’s show last night, but what else happened at the concert of the year? For one, Pete Townshend, despite reports to the contrary, did not perform: “I pulled out of the Ahmet Ertegun benefit the day I heard Led Zep were performing,” Townshend wrote on his blog. “They really don’t need me.” Many in the audience probably wished the other openers had taken Townshend’s stance, but they gave a polite reception to the other acts.
The show began with a prog-rock supergroup comprised of Yes bassist Chris Squire, Yes drummer Alan White, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s keyboardist Keith Emerson doing a progged-out version of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman took the stage next with his longtime group the Rhythm Kings, serving as the house band for the remaining openers. Paul Rodgers joined them for “All Right Now” and Foreigner’s Mick Jones came out for “I Want to Know What Love Is.” All of the acts had been signed by the late Atlantic Records co-founder Ertegun, and Robert Plant made sure that the audience didn’t forget it, announcing “Ahmet, we did it!” after Zeppelin performed “Stairway to Heaven.”
Backstage at the main gig was one gigantic A-list conclave, featuring Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, David Gilmour, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, Michael J. Fox, Pink, Juliette Lewis, Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher and Steve Winwood. After the show, VIPs headed over to the nearby Club Indigo to check out a post-show featuring soul stars Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, Percy Sledge and Sam Moore. The club was jam-packed, and even the most intrepid of reporters didn’t manage to get in.
If that weren’t validation enough for Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, the reviews have been almost universally positive. Here’s a small sampling:
• “Some of the top of [Robert Plant’s voice has gone, but except for one attempted and failed high note in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (‘there walks a la-dy we all know’), he found other melodic routes to suit him. He was authoritative; he was dignified.” (The New York Times)
• “The finale of ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ played as the first of two encores, was as raw and mesmerizing as ever.” (Los Angeles Times)
• “The riff that powers ‘In My Time Of Dying’ is authentically churning and queasy, ‘Ramble On’ sounds not like a song that’s been brought out of mothballs for a benefit concert but wrigglingly, obscenely alive.” (The Guardian UK)
• “By ‘Dazed and Confused’ (all twenty-six minutes of it), Page was at his most avant-garde, attacking his guitar with a violin bow, but on ‘Kashmir,’ unleashing the Zeppelin riff of Zeppelin riffs, he was almost inhumanly exciting. It was like watching a man invent electricity. One oft-repeated Seventies myth suggested Page’s prowess came as a result of a pact with the devil. Superstitious nonsense of course, but sometimes you wonder.” (The Evening Standard)
• “Page may no longer swagger across the stage, his guitar worn low like a gunslinger as he churns out riffs. And Plant can’t scram and strut like he did in his rock god heyday. But the awesome power and majesty of the music was undiminished.” (The Daily News)
• “Bonham’s volcanic fills on ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ confirmed that there are some things that can be transmitted only through DNA.” (The Times UK)