Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 18, 2009

Smells Like Led Gold: Foo & Zep Burn Down London

“Welcome to the greatest f —ing moment of my life!”

This invitation/thank-you was delivered from the stage of London’s Wembley Stadium by a visibly emotional Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters’ frontman and former drummer of Nirvana. What inspired his emotion was a pleasant bit of magic the Foos pulled out of their hat for their VH1-televised concert special: a reunion of two thirds of  the surviving Led Zeppelin, as Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined them onstage for an energetic performance of the Zeppelin classic “Rock and Roll”.

The whole 90-minute broadcast was interesting, high-energy fun, mostly because singer-guitarist-songwriter Grohl has loads of charisma and stage presence, and his onstage interplay with Foo drummer Taylor Hawkins often reeks of two overgrown teenagers having the time of their lives. So I kind of expected them to go “big and British” for this Wembley show, like doing a Who anthem (Baba O’Riley?), or a Clash cover. Instead, after giving props to their British audience for “making this band what we are today”, Grohl gave them the gift of bringing out Page and Jones for a version of Zep’s Rock and Roll (from Zep IV, aka the “ZOSO” album).

Grohl had apparently been to one of the few 2007 Led Zeppelin “reunion” or “in honor of ” shows where Robert Plant was also involved, and went public at one point saying he’d be happy to play drums for his elders if they ever decided to tour. (Not gonna happen, by the way … according to Plant.) So it made sense that the Fighters would go for the brass ring like this on their own big London show.

And after listening to my studio version of “Rock and Roll” on CD today –where clearly John Bonham’s drums are foregrounded so much that he’s essentially the lead instrument– it made sense that Grohl got behind the kit and let Hawkins step to the mike. His singing was passable thanks to his howling passion,… one problem, though: Taylor repeated verse one instead of singing the third “walk in the moonlight” verse. Page and Jones tore it up, of course– and with characteristic grace, not needing to upstage the main act, yet still being artfully subtle, inventive, and slightly inflammatory on Page’s big solo.

In the age of the iPod, of greater competition for listeners, and of thinner middle-class wallets, arena rock may in fact be on its way out, as some critics claim. But it will not go quietly. As long as smart, talented musicians like the Foo Fighters are around, those with the good sense to respect their elders, there will still be moments where the glory, spectacle, and “instant community” of a big stage show can’t be created by any other means.

[It’s possible VH1 will broadcast the show again, but I haven’t checked. Check your listings. It’s also available for purchase as a DVD, maybe with more material than what was on VH1… and without the bleeping of Grohl’s frequent expletives.]


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