Will the founding fathers of modern rock ever give their fans the farewell tour now almost four decades overdue? A Led Zep historian considers the prospect.
The mighty Led Zeppelin existed for twelve years between 1968 and 1980. The sudden death of drummer John Bonham effectively signalled the end of the band in their eyes. How could they possibly have carried on without their powerhouse drummer and dear friend?
Of course, this did not stop fans from hoping the band would reform with a new drummer. There has been the odd get–together for charitable appearances, such as Live Aid in 1985 and Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary in 1988. Although these shows were met with mass delirium from eager fans, in reality, both inevitably fell short on the performance side. (Then again, to be fair, this is not the band’s fault: multi-act events with short three- or four-song sets are never hugely successful from a creative perspective.)
By 1994, Robert Plant had distanced himself from the whole “rock singer” tag. After being approached to perform an MTV Unplugged show, he felt uncomfortable flying the Led Zeppelin flag under his own name. A meeting took place between Plant and Jimmy Page where they talked about doing the show together. Much to his surprise, the Led Zeppelin baggage Plant had been carrying around for years had completely dissipated. The men found common ground and decided to do Unplugged together and see if anything came of it (much to the vexation of a miffed John Paul Jones, who was not invited – or even told – of the event!). They did not go out as Led Zeppelin, but rather as Page & Plant. Also, the MTV show was retitled Unledded due to the electric nature of some numbers. A live record and video from the show, which consisted of rearranged Led Zeppelin classics, were hugely successful. A new studio album and a few tours later, it was all over. When all the bad memories of Led Zeppelin playing huge arenas returned, Plant had enough. He told Page he was leaving, as he much preferred playing small clubs and reconnecting with his audience.
If the band was ever going to reform for a tour, it would have been after playing the O2 Arena in London in 2007 to celebrate the life of Ahmet Ertegun. The rehearsals had gone extremely well and millions of people applied for tickets. Although Plant had made his feelings very clear, Page expected that the successful concert would have given Plant the encouragement necessary to embark on a tour. It would have been a perfect time, with the crew in place and the band nicely rehearsed, but it was not to be, much to the chagrin of Zeppelin fans (and Page in particular). Since that time, there have been some acrimonious spats between the two men, both privately and in the press. All things considered, the prospect of Led Zeppelin actually reforming – with Jones and Jason Bonham (John Bonham’s son) – seems very remote.
Then again, hell did freeze over in early 2016 when Guns n’ Roses announced they were reuniting after a hugely caustic break of 23 years by playing a small club show at Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour club before announcing a huge tour. Of course, Led Zeppelin is a very different beast.
On one hand, Page, Jones and Bonham would love to get together: at one point, there was even talk of hiring Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler on vocals. Luckily, that fell through, but what were they thinking! The inconvenient truth for many is that Plant is pretty intransigent when it comes to getting the band together again. He is clearly enjoying himself with a great band and re-inventing Led Zeppelin classics to high praise from critics and fans alike. Why would he want to get back on the crazy Zeppelin merry-go-round?
Page, on the other hand, has kept himself busy while serving as the perfect curator for Led Zeppelin’s discography. It was his band; he has always had the vision. The two year re-issue of their entire catalogue has been received with huge critical acclaim, and justly so. Their catalogue is without doubt the benchmark for other bands to follow.
Meanwhile, Jones has kept himself occupied with various production projects as well as playing with musical friends around the globe. Clearly, the individual band members are keeping busy, but fans still want to see the band on stage once more, many for the first time. Will it ever happen?
Well, 2018 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the group. If anything were to happen, it would surely be then. The band, including Plant, owes it to the fans to play one last tour!
Marc Roberty is the author of Led Zeppelin: Day By Day, is an award-nominated author, music journalist, and music historian.
This article first appeared on backwing.com and is being reproduced here with the permission of the author.