If any musician in the world has the right to perform in a “Led Zeppelin tribute band,” it has to be Jason Bonham.
After all, he is the son of the late, great John “Bonzo” Bonham, the Zeppelin drummer whose sound was so powerful that some fans referred to it as “thunder of the gods.” A great student of his dad’s work, Jason is a superb drummer in his own right.
And in addition to all that, Jason Bonham is the only drummer in any Zeppelin tribute band who has actually played with Led Zeppelin.
He loves the band’s music, he’s proud of his father’s legacy and he put that admiration on display Friday night in a magnificent Zeppelin tribute show, as part of the Labatt Canal Concert series in Lockport.
It was two hours of raucous, inventive music before a very large and appreciative audience, in a free concert on one of the most beautiful nights of this summer. For a classic rock fan, it couldn’t get much better, unless the real Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones had shown up to take the stage.
Kicking off the festivities with “Rock and Roll” and “Black Dog,” rocking their way toward “Kashmir” and “Stairway To Heaven,” Bonham and four talented musical comrades took no prisoners.
Before cranking up the music, they showed a touching video depicting the highlights of the real Led Zeppelin, the hugely popular British band that broke up after the elder Bonham’s death in 1980.
“They became Led Zeppelin, to me, the greatest band that ever worked the earth,” said 47-year-old Jason in his narration of the film.
He spoke several times during the concert, professing his love for his late father and his music. But Bonham, a powerful bull of a man with arms roughly the size of oak tree trunks, let his drums do most of the talking.
He was especially strong on “Kashmir” and “When The Levee Breaks,” two songs that feature the kind of drumming that make you think a herd of Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaurs are rampaging through the neighborhood.
As good and as authentic as Bonham’s drum work was, the rest of his band – singer James Dylan, lead guitarist Tony Catania, bassist Dorian Heartsong and keyboard player Stephen LeBlanc – were right there with him.
Dylan, who works a day job as a political consultant, had perhaps the toughest job. I can’t imagine many rock voices that would be more difficult to mimic than the bombastic and sometimes hysterical Robert Plant. But Dylan did it very well. His frantic vocal on the great blues song “Since I’ve Been Loving You” would have brought a smile to Plant’s face.
Catania, a long-time Bonham collaborator who also played with the late Buddy Miles, really worked the crowd with his stinging, slashing guitar solos on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Whole Lotta Love.” In true Jimmy Page style, he brought out the double-neck ax for “Stairway To Heaven,” a huge audience favorite.
But the guy I enjoyed watching was Bonham, whose expressions of love for his dad were sincere and heartwarming.
He started drumming – under his dad’s watchful eye – at age 5, and started playing in bands as a teenager. He has played with Foreigner and blues master Joe Bonamassa. But what he’s really famous for is being the only drummer who has appeared in public with Led Zeppelin since the death of the elder Bonham.
In 1988, Jason played with Led Zeppelin on a TV special celebrating the history of the Atlantic Records company. In 2007, he joined Page, Plant and Jones for a concert in London that was later made into a successful motion picture, “Celebration Day.” It had to be an incredible thrill for him, stepping into his dad’s slot in one of the biggest rock bands of all time.
The one negative of this show had nothing to do with the band. It was the fact that too many people came out to hear the sound of their own yakking, rather than the music. It was definitely a problem during the gentler Zeppelin songs, like “Thank You” and “What Is And What Should Never Be.”
Some rock critics look down their noses at “tribute bands.” Not me. I love the music that bands like Led Zeppelin created. When I get the chance to hear it re-created by musicians as talented as Bonham’s band, I enjoy every minute.
Bonham enjoys it, too. You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face Friday night.