Palais Theatre, Melbourne May 24
Report: Greg Phillips Photos: Mark Moray Wicked Rock Photography

It had been a long time coming. Jason Bonham, son of Bonzo has been playing his Led Zeppelin celebration show for eight years now and had threatened to bring it to Australia on many occasions. Originally scheduled for January this year (during the Australian Open tennis, which Jason enjoys) the show was cancelled and then rebooked for May. On top of that, Led Zeppelin headquarters demanded that JB change the name of his show from Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience to Led Zeppelin ‘Evening’, apparently the Zep guys have plans of their own for the ‘Experience’ moniker in the future. It’s unfortunate that the January tour didn’t go ahead as it would have preceded the tour by Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. For many in the crowd tonight, the last time they visited the Palais Theatre was to see Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. While the legend only played half a dozen Zeppelin tunes that night, his performance was incredible. With fresh memories of the authentic voice of Led Zeppelin in mind, tonight’s show was always going to have that monkey on it’s back.

Hitting the crowd with Immigrant Song first up and straight into Good Times, Bad Times was an astute move, presenting a couple of big guns early and announcing that JBLZE were here to rock. Pulling the microphone around to his face, Jason apologised for taking so long to get here and promised to take us Over the Hills and Far Away! Wanton Song and What Is and What Should Never Be proved that these guys had significant chops. Guitarist Jimmy Sakurai, who bears quite a resemblance to Jimmy Page, reconstructed Page’s recorded guitar parts perfectly and while that’s obviously an admirable quality, in a way it was oddly disconcerting. Jimmy would never play tunes live the same way as he did on the albums. Similarly with singer James Dylan, if you were to close your eyes, the vocal was very Plant-like but his stage presence was a little insular. His sunglasses may have given him an air of cool but it wasn’t until he took them off and actually smiled, that he began to make a connection with the audience. I guess at this point I needed to give myself a reality check, make a note to self that this was not Zeppelin, never would be and I needed to get myself into the spirit of the celebration rather than make unrealistic comparisons, as most of the enthusiastic audience had already done from the show’s beginning.

What sets this show apart from the many other Zeppelin tribute shows is the genuine lineage. Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonzo Bonham was Jason’s father and we were blessed to be able to witness childhood footage of Jason and his dad together. The clip of Jason dancing purposely along to Gary Glitter’s Leader of the Gang with his parents watching on was priceless. Also charming was the tale of how Jason’s grandmother forced John to learn big band style jazz drumming and play at a local club, a skill which went a long way to making him the drum legend that he became. He added that the real reason gran wanted to attend the jazz club was to be with the trumpet player John Henry … who she later married. One of the most poignant moments of the night was Jason jamming to footage of his dad on the drum classic Moby Dick. Jason had read an article in which his dad said that his dream was for the two of them to jam together one day at London’s Royal Albert Hall. “Well, we get to do that every night … with technology,” Jason told us in an interview earlier in the year.

Fool in the Rain, a sizzling Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter and Misty Mountain Hop followed as the band began to really kick into gear. Jason then took a moment to recall the Led Zeppelin reunion gig at O2 Arena gig in 2007 while footage of the gig preparation showed behind him. He told us that the moment he actually felt at one with the rest of the band and the music was during the epic song Kashmir. Coincidentally, it was also the moment tonight where I began to feel connected to Jason’s band. Suddenly It all seemed to gell. Alex Howland on keyboards and the sublime Dorian Heartsong on bass helped to create a mountain of sound. Slinging the the double neck Gibson on was enough for Sakurai to declare that Zeppelin’s anthem Stairway To Heaven was imminent. The audience needed no guidance to assist James Dylan with singing the classic lines. The obligatory encore came and no surprises that it rocked with Whole Lotta Love and Rock n Roll. After two and a half hours of pure Zeppelin magic the crowd still wanted more but as Jason suggested during the night while feeling the love, this might need to become a regular celebratory event.