Reviewer: John Kennedy
Forty-seven years ago this June a windy rain-swept Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music Festival played host to a quartet of hirsute sonic savants about to take on the world and its oyster for a stadium stomping, Holiday Inn trashing, shark-infested daughters’ abusing (allegedly) escalator ride to Valhalla and back. On a mission from God, Yardbirds émigré, dilettante iconoclast, Jimmy Page, called in some Black Country grit with the leather-lunged leonine Adonis, Robert Plant, together with anvil head-butting power drummer the late John Bonham. Throwing multi-instrumentalist, John Paul Jones’, napalm into this cauldron of aural carnage volatility was just asking for it. And Page got it in spades; he knew exactly what he was doing.
Meanwhile, a very jealous Aleister Crowley was about to turn in his unsanctified grave and weep for more virgin’s blood. Those were the dazed and confused times when a three/four-hour-plus, multi encore set was considered just warming up. But for tonight, just don’t call these boys a tribute band. Warning: contains explicit scenes of extreme power guitar and extended drum solos baffling to those below the age of 60.
Fronted by the short-fused, powder keg in tight pants, Vince –biceps on loan from Sydney Harbour Bridge – Contarino, once of antipodean tribute rockers Zep Boys, the ante is seriously upped via the critical mass partnership with the 35-piece Black Dog Orchestra. It really shouldn’t work. The concept, let alone the reality, is worryingly antithetical. Churchill used to refer to his bouts of depression as being visited by the Black Dog. If his ghost is here this evening he’ll be head banging on the mosh-pit beaches with the best of them. It’s one of those sorts of evenings, too reverential or precious and the game is up. Too fly or cocky, likewise. But the punters eagerly buy into the delirium of collective, displacement reality. It works.
For nearly three hours and covering nine albums, an authoritative decibel assault-course of eighteen classic songs transcends time and space on a stairway to heaven (best get it over with) that journeys from the Zen of iniquity retreat that was Bron Yr Aur (originally misspelt by a possibly herbally challenged Page) to the hookah smoky souks of Kashmir.
It’s time to get hammered by these doppelganger deities from down under. Twin Marshal amp stacks twinkle with dragon blood-red monitor lights anticipating being unleashed with mega-watt hell via the ludicrous twin-necked Gibson guitars of Tzan Niko. Industrial grade Perspex paneling appears to contain the untamed drumming beast that is Bradley Polain. His later revenge is sweet featuring a volcanic solo riff on a theme called Moby Dick. Mercifully, bassist, Warwick Cheatle eschews the bass solo option.
Salt of the Earth sort of bloke, Contarino, talks about a serendipitous meeting with a lovely lady as the band went seeking out Bonzo’s final resting place. She knew him. He dedicates No Quarter as a mark of respect for Anzac Day back home. Paul Grey on keyboards displays some decidedly tangential Brubeck jazz–cool tinkles. Kashmir’s arabesque dronal crescendo has the band’s guitar bastard thunder-child army and The BDO locked in near orgasmic tandem. Excess in all areas maybe – but the songs remain affectionately near to the same.
It would be the most curmudgeon of purists who would refuse to wear their Knebworth ’79 tie-dye T-shirt at a gig like this and not feel a sense a nostalgic pride. Second half set features a trio of acoustic guitars chiming with the mellow enchantments of California. Inevitably, Stairway (but not Stannah quite yet for the sprightly audience) To Heaven eagle ascends with sublime mastery of form and just about kitsch-free in spite/because of the Middle Earth lyrical tosh – Bustles in hedgerows and flowers for the May Queen – honestly! Immigrant Song/Whole Lotta Love are predictably encore apocalyptic closers. For the misty-eyed, tonight was a moment to savour – the past viewed as a rose-tinted spectacle never to be surpassed.
Reviewed on 25 April 2017 and on tour | Image: Contributed