Typically, I am not too keen on “cover” bands, having experienced many of the original classic rock acts through the years. However, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience promised to be something different. Mainly because Jason is the ‘flesh and blood’ of Led Zeppelin’s iconic drummer, John Bonham, and he has created quite an impressive resume of his own. I had seen Jason Bonham in the early 90’s when he was with his self-named band “Bonham,” when they opened for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park, Illinois. His drumming blew me away and his ‘banging away’ style was definitely reminiscent of his father. So I was eager to see Jason Bonham once again at this show.
In advance of the show I viewed some videos of the band and sorry to say I was a bit disappointed as musically they sounded great, but vocally it left something to be desired. Well let me tell you, when I saw them live my impression from the video was so wrong…this band musically and vocally was absolutely spectacular!
Awaiting the show I scanned the sell out crowd and found it to be a strange conglomeration of concert goers. Some of the fans looked like they had stepped out of a time machine from the seventies; there were aging rockers who brought out their classic Led Zeppelin tee shirts, jackets, et. al., there were young and old of all sorts who were stoked to see this band. Many were primed with liquor and weed. It was quite entertaining to people watch.
The show was a multimedia affair. Kevin Pollack, a representative for Onesti Entertainment (the managing group of the Arcada Theatre), told me that this was one of the most involved productions put on by the Theater. There were a wide array of lights for the light show and a large video screen at the back of the stage.
The show opened with a video montage of home movies of the young John Bonham and later Jason Bonham. It was very nostalgic and heartwarming to hear Jason’s voice-over describe his youth, being the son of an iconic rock star. He mentioned that his dad acted like he worked in a factory and would dirty his face, so he would appear as the other fathers in their neighborhood! He then stated “John Henry ‘Bonzo’ Bonham, changed the world of drumming forever. This is my story and what Led Zeppelin meant to me.” The band launched into Rock and Roll, the audience went absolutely bonkers and one of the best concert experiences I have ever had began.
The band was an outstanding collection of musicians. Obviously, Jason Bonham was stellar on drums all night. In addition, there was Stephen LeBlanc on keyboards, slide guitar, and 2nd guitar, Michael Devin on bass, Tony Catania on lead guitar, and James Dylan on lead vocals. Catania is a very talented and demonstrative guitarist, channeling Jimmy Page, displaying some great facial expressions in the process. Absolutely impressive. As I stated earlier, I was concerned about the vocals and was concerned that there was no one who could recreate the amazing vocals of Robert Plant. Well, my jaw dropped when James Dylan began singing. This was Robert Plant incarnate. I could close my eyes and feel like I was back at a Zeppelin concert in the seventies! My son and brother-in-law were with me and as he was singing, doing the trademark Robert Plant screaming, we were turning to each other shaking our heads in amazement. At the end of the concert when he was introducing the band, Jason Bonham stated that he found James Dylan on the internet…..what a find indeed. What a performer, vocally as well as having a great stage presence. Bravo.
All night long the crowd would sing along to a generous set of Led Zeppelin classics, expertly performed. Heads were bobbing, hands raised in the “rock on” position or fists pumping. A outstanding Led Zeppelin “Experience” indeed.
The band followed up with Celebration Day.
Bonham then took the mike and said “Welcome to the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience. We are honest and we love the music as much as you do. People ask why are you still playing your dad’s music? If he wasn’t my dad I would still play the music, it’s just great music.” (Truer words were never spoken, Jason!) “I never had a chance to tell my dad to me he was the greatest. This music is as fresh now as it has ever been. I am playing this music in tribute to my dad and his band mates.”
The band then played Your Time is Gonna Come. The audience sang along full-throated and enthusiastically.
The ensuing song absolutely blew me away and was probably my favorite of the night because of the mind-blowing vocals of James Dylan, Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You. Great! The audience jumped up to give a raucous standing ovation.
The band continued with You Shook Me and What is and What Should Never Be.
Bonham took the mike once again and related some stories. He said because of his last name he has been banned from most hotels in Chicago. He related that, “You knew John Bonham as a wild man, but I knew him as dad and I loved him dearly.”
He then introduced some footage he got from his dad’s mother of his dad when he was growing up, saying that this brought tears to his eyes. He then paid tribute to his dad with the song, Thank You. He asked the audience to sing along if they knew the words.
When the familiar driving beat of the next song was heard, the audience rose, sang and gyrated as The Immigrant Song was played. Bonham asked, “So far, so good?” The crowd yelled back a resounding, “Yeah!”
The next portion of the show was another highlight and what I was looking forward to, when Jason would be playing the drum solo from Moby Dick in unison with his dad who was shown playing on the video screens behind Jason. As he introduced the segment Jason said, “When I do this part, I’m the old man, because he’s 22 years younger than me. (His dad died in 1980) His dream was to play alongside me at the Royal Albert Hall. Now due to Tommy Lee and technology I do.” The band then exploded into Moby Dick. I had always thought Jason Bonham was a good drummer, but I gained so much respect for him this concert, further heightened by his drum soloing “with his dad.” I don’t need to say that this portion of the show was spectacular, that was obvious, and the audience gave another resounding standing ovation.
There was then a short intermission. Opening the second part of the show some home movies were played, the first showed John Bonham on bongos accompanying his young son on drums and then they switched, the second showed the young Jason dancing and mugging for his parents. It was bittersweet to watch these tender, private moments, knowing what would soon happen to his father.
Bonham got behind his drum kit and began, “Are you sitting comfortably? Are you sure? If everyone is ready (which they were), we will begin, one, two, three!” They opened with The Ocean and then a huge crowd favorite, Houses of the Holy.
Bonham introduced the next song saying that this was the first song he played with his current guitarist, Tony Catania, many years ago, Since I’ve Been Loving You. That was followed by a rousing version of The Song Remains the Same. After the energetic performance Bonham said, “Drink the Red Bull and by this stage of the night, it kicks in!”
Bonham then described the nature of this tribute show. He said, “Each time we play this show it is my way of telling my dad he is the greatest. We did this show three years ago and it was fun, now we are keeping it going.” He then told the audience that he wanted to have his dad come down and play the drums so he told the crowd to yell “1,2, 3, Bonzo!” They screamed at the top of their lungs, but Bonzo did not appear. Jason said, “He’s not in Chicago, he’s not here!” He then urged everyone to get up and clap their hands, which they did, and were treated to a great version of When the Levee Breaks. The audience sang along once again and gave another of the many standing ovations the band received all night.
Kashmir began and it only served to heighten the fervor that the crowd was already experiencing. Another superb version and a well-deserved standing ovation.
For the final song of the evening, everyone knew what was coming and they were not disappointed, Stairway to Heaven. The hits just kept on coming and they sounded absolutely great, the music holding up so well after all these years, which is a testimonial to this band’s musicianship and interpretation of the music. As the audience gave a heartfelt standing ovation and the band walked offstage, Bonham said, “The more noise you make, the longer we play.” And boy, did the crowd make the noise!
For the encore I knew the song that that would have to do, which they did, Whole Lotta Love. They stretched it out a bit in the middle section and gave a interesting spin to this classic rock chestnut. The crowd gave a standing ovation as the band took their bows. After being entertained by a talented band who performed seventeen Led Zeppelin classics, everyone in the audience who experienced Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience really got much more than their money’s worth and no one walked away disappointed.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the guitarist, Tony Catania. My son and I noticed something he was engaging in during the concert, which may not have been noticed by the crowd. To our right were two young handicapped boys in wheelchairs, who were just in front of the stage, near where Tony was. All during the show they were entranced by the music, really getting into it, gesturing with their hands (rock on), etc. Catania went out of his way the entire show to interact with them. He kept acknowledging them, gesturing to them, mugging for them, and at the end of the show flipped them his guitar pick, it really made their night, I am sure. Mr. Catania, what you were doing did not go unnoticed and was an absolute touch of class. It really touched both my son and I (and any others who were astute enough to notice what he was doing).
I began the night with a bit of trepidation and left the show overflowing with positive vibes from the Led Zeppelin Experience. Granted, we can never see the original again except on film/video, but this is a close second. Kudos to all the musicians in the band for expertly recreating the Led Zeppelin magic. I gained more respect for Jason Bonham’s ability as a drummer, was impressed with the guitar work of Tony Catania, but absolutely enthralled by the performance of James Dylan. I never thought anyone could come close to Robert Plant, and James Dylan proved me so wrong!
If you are a Led Zeppelin fan or if you are curious about their music, this is one concert experience not to miss. It is a generous helping of the Led Zeppelin classics, with a great deal of nostalgia and as well as the back story of John and Jason Bonham. The tribute of the son to his father adds a certain poignancy to this excellent show.
Reviewed by Peter S. Sakas on 2/2/13