'Celebration Day' a modern time capsule for Led Zeppelin

Members of Led Zepplin, from left, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.
Members of Led Zepplin, from left, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

When Led Zeppelin regrouped (sort of) for a one-off concert five years ago to honor Atlantic Records leader Ahmet Ertegun, the reunion sparked much hyperventilation over the potential for a full-scale tour by the '70s hard rock gods.

And Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones said, "nyet."

The entire "will they or won't they?" affair repeated itself again earlier this year when Celebration Day, the film of that 2007 show, was released to movie theaters and on DVD. This time Page and Plant took umbrage to the questions from the press, becoming visibly annoyed by the badgering from breathless media members desperate for a reunion (sort of) tour.

(Let's get this out of the way: Led Zeppelin can never properly reunite because original drummer John Bonham is dead. His son Jason now sits in for him and does a remarkable job. But it's not a proper reunion when one of the key band members has been dead for 31 years.)

This nostalgic fussing probably drives the band members crazy because it diverts attention from what Led Zeppelin accomplished in staging the 2007 show, detracts from Plant's quite successful solo career, and -- most importantly -- it just doesn't feel right.

There is something admirable and even noble about the band's decision to not stick someone else in the drummer's chair and soldier on with tours and new releases. It's a statement about the group being bigger than any one member and without Bonham's raw energy and brawny power, it's just not Led Zeppelin, so they moved on.

All of which makes Celebration Day that much more special. The band rehearsed for weeks and turned the concert at London's O2 Arena into a full-stage production that never feels haphazard or casual. The message is obvious: if these guys are going to play together, it's going to be done right, with no corner cutting or cheesy nods to the past .

The DVD puts the band in your living room playing a 16-song show that features blistering versions of "Rock and Roll," "Black Dog," "Misty Mountain Hop," and a slew of other songs that are part of the hard rock nomenclature. An element of Zeppelin's unique greatness was that the band could blow your face out on one song, veer into bluesy jams on something like "Since I've Been Loving You," get trippy and space out on "Dazed and Confused" with its primordial bass line, and then become truly proggy on "No Quarter" while making it all sound perfectly natural.

Page, who comes out in a long trench coat that sets off his white hair, is on fire throughout this show and by the end he's a sweaty mess. Animated and clearly happy, his guitar is a massive force in all the arrangements. But Celebration Day also calls attention to Jones, an under-appreciated bass player who is the perfect melodic balance between Page's power chord forays and Bonham's muscle.

Plant's voice has never sounded better, losing some of its high end in exchange for a more balanced timbre, and Bonham looks absolutely thrilled to be playing parts his father made famous.

The highlight of the show is a chill-inducing, majestic, crunching take on "Kashmir" that sets out to slay the audience and thoroughly succeeds, especially when you play it loud enough to rattle the walls.

The package includes a double-CD of the show and a worthless rehearsal DVD. The latter is shot from a fixed camera too far away from the stage to make out much more than four guys running through the songs. There are no interviews or behind-the-scenes footage and the disc feels like an afterthought.

Also recently released on DVD are shows from Patti Smith and Peter Frampton, both of which come from the excellent Eagle Rock Entertainment.

Patti Smith Live At Montreaux captures a 2005 show at the Montreaux Jazz Festival featuring 12 songs delivered with impeccable form by Smith and her band, which is rounded out with Tom Verlaine (formerly of Television) on guitar.

Kicking off with the bouncy reggae groove of "Redondo Beach," Smith is a commanding presence with a theatrical, dramatic front-woman vibe that is riveting. If you wonder where Michael Stipe or Bono copped most of their stage moves, check out Smith on the powerful and sensuous set piece "Dancing Barefoot."

A version of Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" is delivered with such a straight-forward vocal arrangement that it sounds like she is channeling her idol and mentor. At this point she does a better Dylan than Dylan. Toss in stellar takes of "Beneath The Southern Cross" (which features a long, Wilco-like jam), "Because The Night," and "People Have the Power" and this is a definitive collection.

The liner notes were written by Smith's longtime guitarist and musical compadre Lenny Kaye.

FCA!35 Tour: An Evening With Peter Frampton is the awkwardly titled double-DVD that features his classic Frampton Comes Alive!" album played live in its entirety and a second disc of much newer material.

It's difficult to imagine now just how massively popular the boyishly handsome English guitar player's live album was in 1976. It sold millions of albums and made Frampton a rock and roll household name. It also became an albatross because he was never able to replicate its success.

But the best part of Frampton's story is how he forged ahead over the years and carved out a noteworthy career as a guitarist who seamlessly fused jazz, rock, blues, and pop. Once you get the "Comes Alive" nostalgia kick out of the way, prepare to take on an entirely fresh perspective on Frampton on much newer songs such as "Restraint" and "Float," guitar jams that are breathtaking.

Now bald but still handsome and charming, Frampton also is featured in a mini-documentary about how he lost his guitar, dubbed "The Phoenix," and then found it. The tale is oddly heart-warming and extremely interesting to a guitar wonk.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.