It is an extraordinary occasion in every way, the most eagerly awaited reunion in the history of rock’n’roll. Each member of the audience, gathered from 50 countries, is conscious that more than a million (some say 20 million) people applied online to be here tonight: we are the Charlie Buckets of rock, winners of the golden tickets. There are women in kaftans and no shoes. Led-head dads with their kids. A couple of seats further down my row, Naomi Campbell dances ecstatically. Like I say, extraordinary.
Plant, craggier, bearded but still distinctive with his golden mane, looks like the Norse god of denim, rattling a pair of tambourines against his 59-year-old snake-hips. “Ramble On” sounds as good as ever, and then Page matches him with some seriously filthy blues on “Black Dog” and “In My Time of Dying”. So epic is Led Zeppelin’s legend, so hyperbolic the stories, and so adhesive the “heavy rock” label, that one easily forgets that they were, in origin, a hardcore blues band: one of the most prodigious and infectious mutations of the R&B virus to be produced in this country.
Plant speaks for everyone when he confesses that the band has experienced “thousands and thousands of emotions” getting ready for the concert. Then it’s back to basics with “Trampled Under Foot” – as the singer explains, Led Zep’s homage to Robert Johnson’s 1930s classic, “Terraplane Blues”.
Then it’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”: and again, the tribute to the Staple Singers is explicit. The evening is all about roots – not only the revived passions of the audience but the well-springs of black music from which this great music drew its original inspiration. It's not about generation gaps any more - how could it be? - but reviving a spirit, passing it on.
Fifty minutes into the set, dry ice wafts on stage: but there are few frills. Page and Plant perform a mesmeric counter-point on “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, two voices (one electric) competing down the decades for the attention and the adoration of the crowd. In the old days, they called their venues the “Houses of the Holy”: even now, you can see that they meant it.
One of the best jokes in "Wayne’s World" was the guitar shop where you weren’t allowed to play “Stairway to Heaven.” What a burden to have to play it, then, because you wrote it and there is no escape. There was a time when the band grew to hate the song. But tonight they deliver it with passion and drama. “Hey Ahmet, we did it,” says Plant, in memory of Ahmet Ertegun, the Atlantic Records founder who launched Led Zep and a hundred other incredible acts.
“Kashmir” and “Whole Lotta Love” follow, and then, after just over two hours, the evening winds up with “Rock’n’roll”. Plant gives it his all: “Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time…”
Yes, it has. But I have a hunch that we will not have to wait too long for more. They look as if they are enjoying it, that they have rediscovered the fun of being an amazing band. At the end, Jason Bonham falls to his knees and performs a deep “we’re not worthy” to the three original members of the group: for a moment, he’s another fan: the boy whose father “Bonzo” died after drinking 40 shots of vodka in a day, but not before teaching his son how to play drums.
So the family firm lives on. Forty years after its foundation, it is a pleasure to report that the Song Remains the Same.