But man, Led Zeppelin could play. When they were on, they produced heavy metal with nuance, with roots in not just the blues but Middle Eastern music, flat-out cranking rave-ups and English folk rock. They were archetypal: Robert Plant, the quintessential front man; Jimmy Page, the guitar god; John Paul Jones, the solid bass foundation; John Bonham beating up his drums.
Madison Square Garden. I remember that they were sloppy, that "Stairway to Heaven" seemed to take forever, that Bonham played the drums with his elbows during the solo break on " Moby Dick." By that point, they were deep into rock star excess: excessive drugs, excessive women, excessive solos, excessive life. Not so just a few years earlier, as a pair of 1973 YouTube concert clips -- "The Ocean" and "Celebration Day" -- show. To watch Page's stage moves is to understand why every guy I knew -- myself included -- wanted to be him; he was that cool.
These days, I watch those videos not infrequently, as if I could imagine my way inside. Partly, I suppose, this is a form of reassurance, something to hold on to in an uncertain world. Sure, they could be sloppy, but they could also be chillingly, heart-stoppingly good. Check out " Tangerine," filmed live at London's Earl's Court Theatre in 1975. It's all there, all the clichéd Zeppelin imagery: the double-necked guitar, the elaborate stage-wear, Plant's coppery locks and open shirt. But when Page steps into his 12-string slide guitar solo and begins wailing, I get goose bumps every time.
David L. Ulin