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Consider not the stars, but the secret weapons. Rock's past is full of them: the Rolling Stones' minimalist master, drummer Charlie Watts; AC/DC's human metronome, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young; Motown's dancefloor swami, bassist James Jamerson. These are the musicians often overlooked when celebrity profiles are drawn, television documentaries taped, histories written.

How else to explain how John Paul Jones passed through "Hammer of the Gods," the notorious Led Zeppelin bio, like a ghost? As far as his old cronies, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, were concerned, he may as well have disappeared into the Celtic bog when they reunited several years ago.

Yet without Jones, would Zep have been the most influential hard-rock band of the '70s? Not hardly, especially based on the evidence Jones presented Wednesday at the Park West.

Accompanied by two solid but unspectacular musicians, Jones asserted the talents that made him, in many ways, the glue that held Zep's disparate personalities, and diffuse, globe-trotting music, together. He was both a master of detail--the soloist who knew exactly when to stop, the keyboardist devoted to texture, the bassist who could swing with anything--and a big-picture conceptualist, as evidenced by arrangements that explored the possibilities of interplay rather than rote soloing.

Jones' regular-chap persona projected warmth, even as his gear--monster eight-string bass, towering amplifiers, Godzilla-worthy amplification-- exuded unnaturally high levels of testosterone. He played with a mix of aggression and finesse in the early going, rarely stepping back to allow the music to breathe. "Grind" gripped the road like tank treads, propelled by Jones' gargantuan, pavement-eating bass riff while Nick Beggs threw sonic shrapnel in its path, pulling distortion from his imposingguitar-bass hybrid, the Chapman Stick.

The blues was the trio's primary platform, particularly with Jones on lap-steel bass guitar. But he pushed distortion levels and created noise-encrusted harmonic effects that presented a far spikier take on the tradition than Zeppelin ever did.

On "Snake Eyes," Jones conjured bone-rattling bass tones on the slide guitar, shifted to organ for a solo steeped in fractured soul voicings, then topped it off as a one-man string section by "playing" the violin tones on his synthesizer.

The show's second half highlighted a recurring problem, as Jones tried to engage drummer Terl Bryant in a dialogue on "Bass 'n' Drums," but the percussionist's fussy style didn't sync with Jones' funk-rock minimalism. And when Jones had a go at some of the Zep standards he helped write,

the results were decidedly mixed: "No Quarter" and "Trampled Underfoot" sounded thin, with Jones on tinny electric keyboards and Bryant ill-equipped to match John Bonham's bombastic drum patterns.

But on lap steel, Jones roared on "When the Levee Breaks" and reclaimed not only the guitar riff he wrote for "Black Dog," but expertly mimicked Plant's vocal line--a bit of payback for a brilliant musician too long in the shadows.

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