Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience
by Todd McFliker
From squeezing lemons out of the heartbreaking Delta Blues, to inconceivable drum solos and mystical epics, Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience was phenomenal. JBLZE just may be the best damn tribute band to ever tour the States, as proven in Clearwater's big and beautiful Ruth Eckerd Hall in November. When asked what makes Zeppelin so special, Bonham claims that the legendary quartet was matchless. "They still sound unique," he said. "Every generation, there's a new generation of Led Zeppelin fans. And that says it all."
Before kicking off the first set, photos and videos of Jason growing up were displayed on three massive screens behind the stage. Bonham dressed casually in a black t-shirt, black jeans, and a matching scarf. He sported a shaved head under a bowler hat, not unlike his father, Bonzo, used to wear. The drummer rotated between thick-framed glasses, specs with mirrored lenses and no eyewear whatsoever throughout the evening. "This is my story of what Led Zeppelin and my dad meant to me," Jason said to his mature crowd.
Opening with "Rock and Roll," Bonham's crashing hi-hat and snare drum set the mood as James Dylan sang from his deepest tenor to screaming falsetto. The bass drum displayed the familiar cover of Zeppelin's first album, the Hindenburg's historic crash in 1937. JBLZE delivered "Celebration Day," and the audience was stirred with a bite of “Black Dog.” Dylan's baritone vocal attacks and orgasmic yelps were sensational over the number's throbbing bass drum and climactic thunder. Listeners heard an emotional "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," and Bonham said "We've only just touched the surface. There are so many great songs. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and my dad really put together something unique."
Bass player Michael Devin from Whitesnake performed a remarkable intro to "Dazed and Confused." The lights were turned down and dry ice was used onstage. The multitalented guitarist Tony Catania, who even looked liked Jimmy Page, played with a violin bow. Not unlike Mr. Page’s technique, he tickled his chords with precision.
During "What Is and What Should Never Be," Catania swapped between an acoustic on a stand and an electric Gibson Les Paul Sunburst hanging around his neck. Watching the innovator switch back and forth during the feel-good tune about sonic wizardry was quite impressive. The Zeppelin Experience recreated some fierce blues with “The Lemon Song.” Inspired by Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” Dylan referenced a woman who refuses to stay true. “Squeeze my lemon, ‘Till the juice runs down my leg,” he bawled out to Clearwater.
Devin played a passionate solo in “Thank You,” and Bonham performed the maddest drum solo ever from a ballad. Afterwards, he asked, "Is it what you expected, or is it better?" Bonham went on to play the fourth timeless number in a row from Zeppelin II, "Moby Dick." Videos of the "gentle giant," John Bonham performing were projected onscreen just above Jason in a heart-touching duo of unbelievable drumming. "This should really be illegal what I'm doing," explained Bonham. "It is so much fun."
There was a short intermission, and things got even better with hard-hitting blues. Bonham appeared in a new black shirt that read "No Photos Please." After "How Many More Times," the room got to hear an astonishing "Since I've Been Loving You." Catania fingered a black and white fender, while the percussionist's speed produced a Zeppelinesque droning effect. Meanwhile, the guitar riffs gave off a sense of impending doom, and listeners could hear the woe in the singer's voice.
“When the Levee Breaks” was made up of clean, uninterrupted drums for JBLZE's surprising highlight. Zeppelins flew on the screen in the background as a harmonica added to the number's incredible energy. Bonham dedicated the next extraordinary selection, "The Ocean," to his 14-year-old son Jagger, a talented little drummer in the audience. Florida gave the Zeppelin Experience all the love they needed during the acoustic masterpiece about Celtic mythology, "Over the Hills and Far Away." Tears fell during the most romantic song ever written, "I'm Gonna Crawl." Catania took control of a double-neck guitar for the melodic radio-favorite, "Stairway to Heaven," and every spectator danced throughout the majestic journey with Middle Eastern tones, “Kashmir.” For the encore, Bonham said he'll leave the crowd with the beloved "Whole Lotta Love." The inventive guitar riffs meshed with seductive moans and a simulated orgasm with a psychedelic twist. "Whole Lotta Love" ripped straight into men’s hearts for a spectacular conclusion. "Just remember to have a good time, because no one can take that away from you," Bonham said.
Hats off to Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience. After all, not just any musicians can relive the mighty Zeppelin’s unmatched complexity and flawless studio harmonies onstage. They were all in synch as a single unit and it was brilliant. The boys received a standing ovation after every song. Floridians got to hear JBLZE's wonderful set-list of dateless radio hits mixed with unpopular blues anthems that were just as potent. I guess the drummer's got the right blood flowing through his veins.