Last Night: Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience at The Music Hall at Fair Park

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Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience
Fair Park Music Hall
November 18, 2010

Better than:
I could have ever expected.

Not being a fan of cover or tribute bands, I ventured down to Fair Park Music Hall with quite a bit of trepidation.

Sure, Jason Bonham was the son of John Bonham, the (sadly deceased) legendary drummer for Led Zeppelin. But why give credit to a tribute act simply because a family member is involved?

Well, it was quite evident early on that Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience was not the typical tribute band. Behind a backdrop of family videos showing a four-year-old Jason playing in a pool with his father, this night was a memorial to the elder Bonham and a celebration of the roots of rock 'n' roll.

Even before the show began, the music of blues legends such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters serenaded the late-arriving crowd. This was certainly a hint of what was to come.

Only about half of the Music Hall was filled when Jason Bonham and the rest of his quintet took the stage promptly at 8 o'clock. After a brief introduction and a video showing the town where Bonham grew up, the band kicked into a powerful version of "Rock and Roll" and the night began on a high note.

As images of rock icons Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis flashed on the video screens, Bonham and his top-notch ensemble not only replicated the sound of prime Zeppelin, they simulated the original band's energy as well.

Lead singer James Dylan looks nothing like Robert Plant, but Dylan sings in the same tortured wail that was Plant's trademark throughout the '70s. Guitarist Tony Catania (who has played with Bonham for over a decade) did resemble Jimmy Page just a bit, and his guitar playing and stage presence seemed to connect well with the multi-generational crowd.

What was most interesting was the set list. Concentrating on Zeppelin's most blues-based numbers, this was not a show for those who only know "Stairway to Heaven" and "Black Dog" -- although the band played both of those. The songs that really hit home with the fans were the slow burners such as "Dazed and Confused," "I Can't Quit You Babe" and "Since I've Been Loving You."

At the conclusion of every two or three songs, Bonham would stop and talk about his father. Seemingly often at the point of tears, Bonham reflected on the how he lost his father when he was only 14 and what a great influence his father was on him as a person and as a musician.

After a short intermission, Bonham talked about sitting in for his late father at the Led Zeppelin reunion concert in 2007.

"This is the first song we played then," said Bonham as the band launched into a tight version of "Good Times, Bad Times" as the crowd of 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-somethings stood and danced like they probably haven't in years.

Of course, no Led Zeppelin show, tribute or otherwise, would be complete without "Stairway to Heaven," and the version on this night was, like everything else, spot on. Instead of sounding like the FM radio warhorse the tune has become, the younger Bonham had the crowd feeling as if the song was about his father's passing.

On the whole, the show was as much a (very loud) theater piece as it was a rock performance. Exceeding all of my expectations, I found myself convinced that Led Zeppelin was the greatest rock and roll band ever.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Honestly, I have never been to a rock show where I can describe the vibe as "touching," but that's exactly how I felt looking around at the faces of those attending. Even in the rather stuffy confines of the Fair Park Music Hall, audience members reacted like it was indeed Plant and Page walking that stage. As a kid, I was never really the biggest Zeppelin fan. But I came away from this night reevaluating my opinion.

By The Way: Lots of moms, dads and teenage sons at the show. I caught a few dads sneaking away to the bathroom for a quick puff of the whacky tobacky.

Random Note: As mentioned above, most of the crowd arrived 30 minutes into the show. There were grumblings from those already there about the hassle of letting all these late-comers into their seats. By the time everyone finally found their places, I'd day the venue was 90 percent occupied. I'd say everyone got their monies worth.

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