WHOLE LOTTA LOVE
Enmore Theatre 16/09/10
by Michael Smith
With a show like this, based as is it on a fixed repertoire and the expectations of an audience not looking for interpretation but reasonable facsimiles of that repertoire, the biggest question is always more about what songs don’t get a run. The official tally of some 65 songs sprawled across a number of genres, from the early heavy blues to folk rock to country rock, and tonight, the singers gathered together for what was being dubbed a Led Zeppelin Encomium, or “formal expression of praise”, proved just as diverse and surprising as many of those songs were when they first appeared on the nine studio albums the band released in the 12 years they were together.
The most surprising also proved to be one of the most impressive interpreters, Adelaide-born Zkye Compson-Harris channelling the voice of Robert Plant with an elegant ease that blew everyone away, particularly on her first performance, the slow blues Since I’ve Been Loving You, from Led Zeppelin III.
That’s not to say the male singers that came before – Danny Marx Young, Ooh La La’s Simon Meli, Dave Gleeson and Steve Balbi – didn’t deliver their songs with an equal passion and flair; it was just Compson-Harris, in her elegant gown, just came closest to Plant’s tone, at least in the first half of the program. She was followed by an equally surprising performer, the pint-sized powerhouse Ngaiire who, together with Compson-Harris and keyboards player Charmaine Ford, proved that while this extraordinary repertoire might have created by four white Anglos-Saxon males, music of calibre, delivered with power and passion, recognises no gender.
Among the male singers who strutted the stage tonight, it was interesting to see how the younger ones – Young and Meli – delivered their particular contributions with a certain ardent respect, while the more mature group – Gleeson, Balbi and the underutilised John Swan, were more casual, playing with the expected stereotype of the male hard rocker. Gleeson ran around with his usual cheeky energy, while Swan looked on when he wasn’t singing, like the genial father figure proud of his musical progeny. Balbi was gloriously iconoclastic, teasing out the clichés and then subverting them, slapping his mic like it was some skanky ho as he let the band take over for some extended soloing in Kashmir.
The band was truly impressive, even if it took two guitarists to deliver what Jimmy Page used, at least live, to deliver alone. Joseph Calderazzo was the guitarist most obviously in tune with Page, reproducing both acoustic and electric solos with astonishing accuracy, while Peter Northcote allowed more of his own dazzling personality to filter into his interpretations.
Bass player Greg Royal was as solid as John Paul Jones, locking in nicely with drummer Gordon Rytmeister, but it was Ford who really shone in the backline which, in the second half, included a six-piece string section, replicating the amazing arrangements Jones had created in the original recordings.
Percussionist Tony Azzopardi added another subtle layer when necessary. So, what was left out? Dazed And Confused was an obvious one, Communication Breakdown too, and How Many More Times. But then, for the Led Zep tragics who attended, the 21 songs that did get a run should have kept them more than happy. The obvious ones were there – Rock’n’Roll, Ramble On and Bron-y-Stomp from Young, Immigrant Song from Swan, Stairway To Heaven convincingly delivered by Meli and Black Dog and The Battle Of Evermore, the latter in duet with Ngaiire, from Gleeson. Everyone had fun, the punters left happy, having got their Zep fix for another year.
In the end of course, it was just a cover band with some guest vocalists, but it was all delivered with such obvious reverence for the band and its musical legacy, with a professionalism to match anything in this vein being presented anywhere in the world, to diminish the event would be churlish, a job well done.