Led Zep's Last Stand

Page and Plant: In their time of reuniting

In fact that "middle-age sigh" reverberated throughout the band's first ten songs, including an ill-advised cover of the Cure's "Lullaby" (presumably included in the mix as a sop to Thompson) and a gargantuanly overblown number (presumably from Page's 1988 solo album, Outrider). Wearing black leather pants and a blue, sleeveless shirt, the still-sexy 46-year-old Plant shook his leonine locks, mugged fetchingly for the crowd, and barked out his lyrics in a surprisingly strong, crisp voice, conveying considerably more vocal power and process than he does on No Quarter. Meanwhile, the 51-year-old Page (black nonleather pants, purple silk shirt) remained relatively sedentary, grinning frequently as he cranked out signature chords; he jolted to life only once, striding over to his bank of equipment to coax some histrionic feedback from his guitar A a silly-looking and -sounding spectacle. In sum, for that initial hour, Page and Plant and band waddled like Led Zeppelin, they quacked like Led Zeppelin, and very likely for the frequently hooting Miami throng, which ranged from saucer-eyed teens to gray-bearded fiftysomethings, they were Led Zeppelin.

But during the second half of the show they emerged as something wholly other, living up to Plant's above-mentioned admonition about "expanding and developing." Nigel Eaton kick-started their ascent with an at first mournful, then frenetically dervishlike solo on the hurdy-gurdy A a peculiar-looking (a wheel, a crank, strings) medieval instrument that produces a kinder, gentler bagpipeslike sound A that segued into a subtly effective "Nobody's Fault but Mine." Then the band romped through an agreeable "The Song Remains the Same," drowned out the Miami Symphony's strings on the bluesy "Since I've Been Loving You," and, juiced by the fervent playing of the Egyptian Ensemble, adroitly melded Eastern and Western musics on "Friends" and "Four Sticks." By the time they closed out their set with an effortlessly dazzling "In the Evening," the Arena surged with swaying bodies.

With the notable exception of an encore of "Black Dog," on which the crowd sang along to every "uh-uh-uh-uh," Page and Plant steadfastly eschewed their Led Zep hits: "Whole Lotta Love," "Immigrant Song," "Communication Breakdown," and, of course, "Stairway to Heaven." Not surprisingly they followed "Black Dog" A and finished the night A with "Kashmir," perhaps Led Zeppelin's most ambitious song, and certainly the one most associated with the band's Middle Eastern musical dabblings. Page and Plant successfully re-created the original version's majesty but wisely tempered its primal stomp, as the string section held a long, sustained note during the break and an Egyptian Ensemble member played a beautiful, evocative violin solo, accentuating the song's existing North African feel.

In the No Quarter press materials, Page theorizes, "It's more of a challenge to take things further, and that's exactly what we want to do A and have done." Well, yes and no. You could argue that both on record and in concert, the songs sort of remain the same for Page and Plant. But given the music's mostly engaging nature, where's the harm in that?

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