I normally tend to steer well clear of tribute bands, they often try way too hard to LOOK the part and allow the music to take a back seat in the vain hope that people will be full of ale by the time they take to the stage and forget that they're not seeing the real deal. I approached Plymouth Pavilions with a mixture of excitement and doubt, Led Zeppelin played a huge part in my musical awakening during my teenage years with their heady mix of blues, folk and classic rock, getting the chance to see an established bunch of musicians playing their music did appeal to me. Couple this with a full 35 piece orchestra and it tipped the balance in their favour, I WAS looking forward to the show.
After touring the show throughout Australia, powerhouse vocalist Vince Contarino said that he had been excited to finally bring the show to the UK, the home of Led Zeppelin. They were in the UK for 8 dates, Plymouth being the final one, looking at reviews of previous dates, it looked like the audience were in for one hell of an evening!
Inside the venue, a predominantly more mature audience filled the bar, sales of Gold Label Barley Wine and Light & Bitter rang through the tills until an announcement boomed over the tannoy advising that the show would start at 7:30pm prompt, we shuffled into the auditorium and found our seats just as the orchestra did the same on stage.
The conductor walked on stage and after a quick 'tune up', they broke into a short medley of Led Zep classics, warming the room ready for the entrance of the band who took to the stage shortly afterwards to a huge round of applause. What struck me immediately was the pure power that hit you in the audience, not only were you treated to classic tracks performed by some world class musicians, you also had the full force of the orchestra behind them, accentuating the music and really adding an extra special touch to proceedings.
These guys certainly held their own when it came to performing, each fulfilling their role with expert precision and a real passion, sometimes not seen in the youth of today!
Act One took in some lesser known tracks lifted from later Led Zep albums but with the introduction of "Ramble On", "Good Times Bad Times" and the legendary sound of "Rock 'n Roll" really helped to set the scene for act two that would take place after a short intermission where glasses were charged and bladders were relieved.
The timeless stomping riff of "Kashmir" kicked off Act Two, the epic sound filling the auditorium as the stage was awash in a sea of red and blue light, really adding to the atmosphere that the song conjured as the orchestra blasted out the timeless track. "No Quarter" sounded moody and haunting with its keyboard intro before the band came crashing in with the trademark squealing guitar lick. After a lengthy keyboard solo, it was time for the guitar to take over, proving he had the chops to pull off such a momentous task, quite literally filling the shoes of Jimmy Page.
"Moby Dick" saw the orchestra back in full effect, everyone halted to allow the drummer time to flex his muscles and demonstrate his prowess and BOY, did he do just that, I wasn't keeping an eye on the time but I would put good money on the fact that he was playing solo for a good 10 minutes, this is definitely something you DON'T see at gigs these days! Whilst not the 26 minute epics that John Bonham used to knock out, it was very impressive nonetheless with the rest of the band taking a well-earned break before joining him to bring the song to a close.
3 stools were arranged at the front of the stage alongside 3 acoustic guitars which played host to an immense version of "Going to California" which sounded incredible with the orchestral backing and stripped back folk guitar sound, just like the original. The opening guitar lines of "Stairway to Heaven" caused a huge round of applause and the song went on to be delivered perfectly, again, the orchestra really adding some weight to the track that sounded incredible, the vocals really taking over, proving that Vince Contarino had indeed earned his place on that stage.
Whilst the stage setup didn't replicate the grandeur that Led Zep shows used to offer, there were nods to their style in the performance, the guitarist used Les Paul's alongside double headed axes as used by Jimmy Page in the day whilst the vocalist really gave it his all, replicating Plant the best he could. The famous tones of "Black Dog" rang out across the auditorium, the audience helping out with the vocals as best they could before the band rounded things up and bought the show to a close. With the orchestra still in place, I think it was pretty obvious that we would be treated to a few more crowd pleasers!
The hard hitting opening notes of "Immigrant Song" turned the room into a full on rock-fest, its pounding drums, pitch perfect vocals and the impressive string section really standing out. This led straight into "Whole Lotta Love", which saw the Violin section head banging along to the timeless riff. The breakdown worked well with Plant's vocal ticks and nuances replicated very well by Contarino. After a medley of a few other classic rock numbers, they bought things back to earth and the guitarist burst into the solo for "Whole Lotta Love" which really got people up and rocking along for the final few minutes.
I've never seen this dynamic before (band and orchestra) but I know that other classic bands have started to employ it on their tours in order to add a little more 'pzazz' to the proceedings. I didn't know what to expect but I'll admit that I was pleasantly surprised, looking around the room, people stood in appreciation, clearly as impressed as I was. An immense evening of entertainment, some classic tracks played extremely well to a warm and appreciative audience.
Sadly, this was the last night of the UK tour for Led Zeppelin Masters, I'm sure that they'll be back again in the near future, keep your eyes on their website for more information as it breaks. In the meantime, as a new day broke, I imagine there’d be a few chiropractors across Plymouth working overtime!
Words and Pictures by Steve Muscutt