Plant & Page Storm the Sports Palace
Robert Plant / Jimmy Page
Palacio de Deportes - Madrid
[July 5, 1995]
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 1995, Volume 2, #7
Written by Robert J. Lavigna
On July 5th, an azure, crystal-studded zeppelin burst from the placid, unsuspecting Spanish skies to descend on Madrid's Palacio de Deportes. The strange craft was about half the size of the original that appeared some twenty-seven years ago out of the then-paisley-flamed clouds. Piloting the ship this night, two of rock and roll's most enduring and controversial legends: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, in the middle of their world tour to promote their highly-acclaimed 1994 collaboration, No Quarter, Unledded.
Despite the unimaginative title of the album let's not forget the other' member of Led Zeppelin who co-wrote No Quarter, John Paul Jones, who, as I understand it, will receive a postcard from each concert site Plant and Page were souped up with plenty of high-octane energy for the occasion (could we imagine anything less?) And they even had a few surprises in store for the crowd. In fact, the pair seemed to have more energy than the fifteen thousand or so people gathered at the venue. At one point during the show, Plant, in Spanish, prodded the audience: Talk, talk to me! and at a later juncture, even asked, More? More songs? as if he and his band were obligated to humor a bunch of Las Vegas dinner ballroom fogies.
The show began with a bouncy medley of The Wanton Song, Bring It On Home, and an unfortunately abridged version of Whole Lotta Love. Page then stepped to the forefront, as he would on several occasions this night, and shined like the star he is on Thank You. Thank you, Jimmy! The tempo slowed for a chilling, largely acoustic rendition of the ever-sinister No Quarter, and picked right back up again with Gallows Pole. This number had to have been responsible for at least a few cases of whiplash and strained knees for all the head bobbing and foot stomping it induced. A member of the band, Nigel Eaton, took over at this point and hypnotized the crowd with his hurdy-gurdy, grinding out of the Middle Eastern sounds prevalent throughout the No Quarter album. Plant and Page returned with a somewhat tiresome When the Levee Breaks, followed by one of the few numbers performed that night that was not a Led Zeppelin song: Yallah, a forgettable cut from No Quarter.
The dynamic duo then pushed the zeppelin beyond the earth's atmosphere with Since I've Been Loving You. Here, Page showed why he is among the all-time masters bleeding out his rock-bottom blues for want of his traded soul. Suddenly, the atmosphere erupted with The Song Remains the Same, and the crowd went berserk. These two songs marked the zenith of the night's flight (catchy, no?); for ten precious minutes, we were treated to the peak force of Led Zeppelin's raw power.
Plant then introduced an integral part of the entourage, a band of musicians called the Egyptian Pharaohs, hailing from you guessed it Egypt, who set the mood for five minutes with the whines and heartbeats of Middle Eastern strings and tablas, an apropos prelude to Friends. The crowd didn't seem to know what to make of this song, but I will attest to having seen the Pyramids hovering over the stage. Then Plant slipped into a cut from his 1993 solo effort, Fate of Nations, titled Calling to You. As if to make up for the little-known track, Jimmy Page took over for a solo spotlight, jamming away with Plant whirling and twirling around the stage.
To my complete surprise, the band lurched into a medley of two Doors' songs, a soporific Light My Fire , then Break On Through, which set the crowd hopping and thrashing their arms like straightjacket candidates. By the time we identified the next song, it was over: Dazed and Confused, perhaps the most explosive and gut-wrenching song in Zeppelin history. This night, they gave us a diluted two-minute tease of their thunderous hallmark, as though trying to format the track for AM radio. It was a colossal disappointment. They recovered with Four Sticks in a curried cous-cous flavor which had everybody shaking their asses. The Egyptian Pharoahs came back for a short spot, and Plant and his soundboard man played awhile with some wah-wah-wah-weeeird voice noises. The show closed with two strong, pounding numbers, In the Evening and Carouselambra. After five minutes of the crowd's hooting and chanting, the two stars retook the stage for their encore: Black Dog, a genuine crowd-pleaser, and an extended trip to Kashmir (and its elevated outskirts), an appropriate finish to a spectacular evening.
I hoped and prayed to Allah that they would return one final time to perform Stairway to Heaven. My friend Carmen wanted to stick around, even though they'd raised the lights, JUST IN CASE, and I tried to share her optimism, but Karl, who knew better, said simply, No way Plant hates that song, he'll never perform it again. Karl was right, at least for this night. Instead of a stairway to heaven, we faced a crowded stairway to the exit ramps.
Two hours of mystic, Middle Eastern hued, hard-driving rock, 21 songs in all, and yet I couldn't help feeling a tad disappointed. I have been part of more enthusiastic concert crowds, and Page and Plant didn't perform THE song. I also would have loved to hear a couple more ballads like Going to California, Tangerine, or The Rain Song, though anyone familiar with Led Zeppelin's repertoire would feel that way. I solaced myself: the witnessing of two rock gods, in the flesh, performing their wizardry. Page was impeccable, and Plant, even after all these years, has preserved his soulful, screeching voice. Dare I forget to mention the Madrid Philharmonic Orchestra, which provided tasteful string accompaniments on half the numbers? No black magic, no pubescent, fish-stuffed vaginas, but the Horned One himself, surely in attendance that night, had to be smiling as he watched the mighty airship Zeppelin take to the clouds once more.
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Copyright © 1995 The Music Box