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A slightly delayed review of Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience

When I first heard that Jason Bonham’s Led-Zeppelin Experience was coming to town (The Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA) I immediately looked up who the musicians were, I couldn’t find any information on any of them. I was finally able to find a few ‘official’ You Tube videos of the band performing live. Of course, the singer is always the big question IMO, and this guy, who I now know as James Dylan (no relation to Bob, I don’t think) was really good, Jason said he found him online. At times, he sounded a lot like Robert Plant, it is the end of the tour, so his voice was also bit scratchy, at times, as well. He also played a bit of acoustic guitar, as needed.  He didn’t have the charisma of a Robert Plant, but very few singers do.

The next musician to evaluate is the guitarist, because if you’re going to ‘play’ Jimmy Page, you better be damn sure you’re up to the task, as he is one of the best, ever! And Tony Catania did a great job, my friend Wade said how cool it is to get to be the guitarist of a Led Zeppelin tribute band, because of all the great riffs he gets to play, and I have got to say, he pulled it off.  Both Wade and I agreed that bassist Michael Devin was the weak link, although he did play a decent harmonica, he was serviceable, but again, he had to play the parts of half of the best rhythm section ever. The fifth member is multi-instrumentalist Stephen LeBlanc, who played keyboards, rhythm guitar, lap steel guitar, and acoustic guitar (you know how great the original band is, when it takes five people to play the parts of the four original members.)

Jason did a lot of reminiscing and had a video screen of home movies of both he and his famous dad, John, when they were kids. It was nice to hear him speak so lovingly of his dad, who passed away thirty years ago.

They opened the show just like Led Zeppelin did in the film The Song Remains The Same with “Rock and Roll” and “Celebration Day” getting the nearly sold out crowd worked up early, the opening drum part for “Rock and Roll” was passable not as good as the original, next the tore into the opening guitar riff to “Bring It On Home”, but as Led Zeppelin often did, they used a couple of different song opens to intro “Black Dog”, which is what JBLZE did here, I feel that Robert Plant is the only one who should sing “Black Dog”, as the other Zep tribute band’s singers just can’t cut it, it is not an easy song to sing, but I gotta say James Dylan did an admirable job. 

Jason introduced the next song by saying it was something Led Zeppelin played even before they were Led Zeppelin and it featured Michael Devin on bass, I knew immediately that it was “Dazed and Confused”. In the middle of the song they broke into Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco” featuring the lyrics If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair. At the end of the song Jason made a point of saying that was literally a last minute addition done just for us, and that they had never done that before, ever!

There were a few surprises in their song choices, and Wade and I speculated at to what they might play, which was rather fun “The Lemon Song”~ which features some of the best bass playing of all time from John Paul Jones in the forefront~ was a bit of a surprise and I ask Wade if he thinks Devin will be able to match the brilliant bass work of John Paul Jones from the original, we both agree he won’t, and we were right, he stayed more in the background and the song was more of a showcase for guitarist Tony Catania.

The biggest surprise came when Jason intro’d a song by saying that they were going to play something a bit different, but he’d bet that we’d know it, they then went into the intro of the great blues opus “I’m Gonna Crawl”, the only post Physical Graffiti song they played. And speaking of blues opus’, James Dylan~ who did very little speaking, leaving most of it to Jason~did get to intro a song, telling us, it was the first song Jason and [guitarist] Tony ever played together, next we hear the opening riff to “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, and it all sounded pretty good.

After about an hour or so they took a fifteen minute intermission, and came back with Jason introducing the next song as the one Led Zeppelin opened with in London back in 2007, which of course, was “Good Times Bad Times”.

Jason was very humble saying that Led Zeppelin will always be with his father John, but for one day he was in Led Zeppelin, playing with his heroes.

One of the highlights was the song Robert Plant calls the ultimate Led Zeppelin song, known as “Kashmir”, complete with a black and white Danelectro guitar, just like the one Jimmy Page uses

And yes, they even played “Stairway To Heaven”

My big question was would they play “Moby Dick”, John Bonham’s big drum solo, the live version clocking in at over 30 minutes! Jason said they only had the one drum kit in the house, so he never got to play side by side with his dad, but through modern technology, that was about to change. Jason played while video of his father playing the same song ran behind him. Jason did a great job; the only part he left out was the barehanded part. After the song he received a standing ovation, the crowd by the way was very enthusiastic, and Jason made a point of how all of us Led Zeppelin fans all over the World are keeping their music alive and he thanked us profusely.

There were a few songs that I was surprised that they DIDN’T play, for example: “Heartbreaker”, “Ramble On” “Trampled Underfoot” and “The Immigrant Song”, but all in all the show was amazing, and with so many great songs, they can’t get to them all. Wade and I were both afraid we’d be doing the Walk Of Shame on the way home, saying how bad the show was and how disappointed we were, but thankfully we were really proven wrong.

They ended the show with “Whole Lotta Love”, an excellent version, they even broke out the theremin, again, just like Jimmy Page uses in the original.

Led Zeppelin were known for their medleys and improves, and JBLZE did a pretty good job continuing the tradition.

Just like the band, I can only get to so many songs (to review), but if I reviewed every song they played, this would go on forever.

I was very impressed with the musicianship and how well they stayed true to the original.

I am the biggest Led Zeppelin fan I know and am always a bit scared to hear any tribute bands, but if anybody could pull it off, it’s Jason Bonham, (I knew he would find the best musicians he could) and they did a great job staying true to the original.

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