Live review: Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience @ the Ogden TheatreBy Jason Blevins | May 23rd, 2011 | 9 comments
Jason Bonham dropped the hammer of the gods on the Ogden Friday night.
The son of John Bonham, the berserk-footed drummer of Led Zeppelin whose death in 1980 dethroned the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time, directed a powerful, precise and yet personalized replica of Zeppelin that culled rabid response from the full house. The overwhelming embrace led Bonham, at one point, to sobs as he heralded his band’s Denver stop as “the best ever.”
Fronting Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience –- arguably the hot seat in the band –- is the golden-throated James Dylan, who carries Robert Plant’s trademark shrill howl-moan with immutable potency. From “Immigrant Song” to “Thank You” to “The Ocean” to a stunning rendition of “In The Light,” Dylan relayed one of the most charismatic voices in rock with humble strength. (Led Zeppelin never played “In The Light” live, adding a layer of gravitas to Dylan’s sublime rendering.)
Glorifying the original was the theme of the night as Bonham, Dylan, guitarist Tony Catania and bassist Dorian Heartsong resurrected rock’s most influential anthems with unbending adherence. The expected “Stairway To Heaven” saw Catania, whose shoulders slouch in that Jimmy Page way, play the double-neck Gibson, slung extra-low and teased with a violin bow, a la Page, which moved more than a dozen in the crowd to actually bust out their lighters, a la 1972. Multi-instrumentalist Steve LeBlanc’s mournful, Delta Blues lap steel on the extra-heavy “When The Levee Breaks” conjured Led Zeppelin at its best. (Bonham played over a recording of his dad’s dominant drumming on “Levee,” delivering yet another nod to the percussive hero who wasn’t there.)
Jason Bonham — who didn’t start seriously drumming until after his dad died and only 10 years ago dropped the drink after, he says, spending “too long emulating the wrong part” of his booze-loving father, is not a particularly gifted drummer (despite the DNA). This was utterly evident when the screen behind stage split with one side showing grainy video of his percussive-possessed father locked in the throes of a deeply grooved “Moby Dick,” and the other half showing live video of his son struggling to match the song’s incalculable rhythms. The video revealed a youthful Bonzo playing with an innate feel that can never be learned or taught while it showed his 44-year-old son vainly counting beats in the off-tempo solo that supports John Bonham’s elevation as one of rock’s greatest drummers.
That same lack of feel reared its head two songs later as the band completely lost each other in “Over The Hills And Far Away,” resulting in an embarrassing dissolution and the only moment in the 140-minute, two-set show that things didn’t click perfectly.
The roar of approval from the weathered crowd –- a mere sliver of the vast tribe whose youth will forever remain soundtracked by “Physical Graffiti,” “Houses Of The Holy” and “The Song Remains The Same” –- visibly floored the band. It was actually surprising to think that the typically rowdy Ogden reception noticeably eclipsed the band’s recent shows in Montreal, Atlantic City and St. Louis. But unless Bonham is pushed to sobbing and gushing over every crowd, Denver apparently harbors some extra love for Led Zeppelin and its bloodline.
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.
Mark T. Osler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.