Live Review: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant

Madison Square Garden, New York, July 16, 1998

No disrespect to the musical legacy of Led Zeppelin, but nothing attonight'sshow better evoked the golden age of stadium rock than the sight of RobertPlant's golden mane blowing around his head. Sure, he can still wail like abanshee and compatriot Jimmy Page can still make his guitar roar like avenerable lion, but it was Plant's hair blowing in the AC gales that trulymade you remember laughter and the indelible stage presence of Zeppelin.

Yes, Zeppelin. Let's call a spade a spade. When Page and Plant snubbed Zepbassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones on their "No Quarter" tour four yearsago,they stressed that they were determined not to trade in nostalgia fornostalgia's sake. Hence the "Page and Plant" tag and the accompanyingorchestra of middle eastern musicians to help give warhorses like "Kashmir"and "The Battle of Evermore" a unique spin. It was a tenuous excuse intheory,but the results were interesting enough to distinguish the duo fromcountlessother re-heat-the-hits reunion tours, ranging from the Eagles to shed-actslike REO Speedwagon and the Doobie Brothers.

But with this current tour, supporting Walking Into Clarksdale, Page andPlant's studio "debut," all those concessions to originality have beenthrownright out the window. Plant admitted as much himself tonight: "We've got noEgyptians, we've got no hurdy gurdy; we've just us and a few bright ideas."The bright ideas in question consisted of three new songs and a whole lottastraight-up, ungussied Led. There was drummer Michael Lee in the John Bonhamseat, and bassist Charlie Jones and keyboardist Phil Andrews filling in forthe still-absent John Paul Jones, but the songs remained the same and PageandPlant made no apologies for it.

It was a strategy that kept the crowd standing for ninety-seven percent oftheshow and inspired deafening hoots and hollers of "Zeppelin!" in the Garden'shallways after the show. Page alone probably could have inspired such anafterglow had he merely played the riff to "Whole Lotta Love" for two hoursstraight. Indeed, for the first six songs he might as well have been byhimself given what a chore it was to hear Plant through the muddy thunder ofamix that rendered stompers like "Heartbreaker" and "Ramble On"indistinguishable from the new "Walking Into Clarksdale." For all the visualmajesty of his billowing mane of golden locks, Plant could have beenreplacedby a cardboard-cutout -- or former Page one-night-stander David Coverdale,forthat matter.

Thankfully, by the time "No Quarter" came to a slow boil, the levels wereevened out and Plant's voice was brought into proportion with Page's LesPaul.With it too came the opportunity for Jones, Lee and Anderson to spread outandexpress their own strengths. Soon after, the stools and chairs were broughtout for pseudo-acoustic fare like "Going to California," "Tangerine" and apropulsive, harrowing "Gallows Pole," all of which proved to be much moreimpressive outlets for Page's talent than his trademark marriage of violinbowto guitar neck -- a gimmick that looks cool but is a genuine bitch on theears.

The evening's best moments were "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and the new "MostHigh." "Babe," clocking in at well over ten minutes, was like a concert inminiature, a rock opera which found Page and Plant working off each other'severy nuance. As for "Most High," it played like a condensed "Kashmir"withoutall the dull bits -- a direct descendent of their finest work in Zeppelinthatwas infinitely more exciting than the following "Whole Lotta Love" and theencore's rote run-throughs of "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll."

As for "Kashmir," "Stairway to Heaven" and "Dazed and Confused," well, theydidn't play any of them. Fine, but shouldn't their omission have left roomsomewhere in the set for such undervalued Zep classics as "The Ocean," "Overthe Hills and Far Away" or "In My Time of Dying"? Apparently not, althoughthewhole of Physical Graffitti could have been played in the time it took theband to leave the stage after their extended display of waving and bowing tothe crowd. Such stadium rock indulgence is their due, though -- and morepowerto them -- but it was hard not to feel shortchanged by the time they finallyleft and the house lights came on. Without a more committed effort toproducing more *new* music on par with "Most High," Page and Plant would dowell to take in a Doobies shed show before touring again: for there but forthe grace of their vaulted names go they.