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Page and Plant keep the Pavilion rock 'n' rolling


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Author(s):Rick Mitchell.

Something unusual occurred Wednesday night at the Woodlands Pavilion, something that hasn't happened in more than 20 years: I actually wanted to hear "Stairway to Heaven."

It's probably just as well that it didn't happen. With so many lighters held aloft, the whole sold-out amphitheater might have ascended into the celestial realm, annoying the neighbors and decreasing property values.

But the rejuvenated tandem of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant ripped a wide swath through the rest of the Led Zeppelin catalog Wednesday night. Even those who never worshiped at the altar of Zep back in the '70s would have to concede that these rock geezers performed with far more fire and flair than anyone would have a right to expect at this late date.

Page, in particular, was a revelation. A lost and shadowy soul for much of the past two decades, the guitarist appeared content to play second fiddle as Plant set the direction for their first reunion tour in 1995. His playing still sounded suspiciously somnambulant on Page/Plant's last album, Walking Into Clarksdale.

Yet, from the first time Page stepped up and cut loose on Zep's Heartbreaker, it was obvious that he's back among the living. On solo after solo, he displayed the daredevil chops that turned the blues inside out and pointed the direction for Ritchie Blackmore, Ted Nugent, Eddie Van Halen and a host of other hard-rock maniacs.

Unlike most of those who came after him, Page rarely settled for recycling his own cliches with Zeppelin. How Many More Times featured a "psychedelic lounge" interlude that found him stroking his guitar with a cello bow. Baby, I'm Gonna Leave You made use of dynamic tempo shifts and contrasting acoustic/electric textures.

On the previous tour, Page and Plant brought along an Egyptian string orchestra, which added an exotic world-beat element but also slowed everything down, sort of like dancing underwater.

This time, they were backed by a ferociously tight rock 'n' roll band featuring Michael Lee on drums, Charlie Jones on bass, and Phil Andrews on keyboards and miscellaneous instruments. All the musicians were dressed in basic black, and the lighting was simple and effective. The sound mix was as close to perfect as one could hope for.

For better or worse, Plant's histrionic vocal style was as influential as Page's guitar heroics. His throat-shredding howls inspired a whole generation of screaming white boys such as AC/DC's Bon Scott and Rush's Geddy Lee.

But Plant always maintained a certain artistic stature, even when calling out for a "lemon squeezer" or mumbling on about "the darkest depths of Mordor." Far more than Page's post-Zep work, Plant's solo albums have pushed the envelope creatively.

Now, both look healthy and happy to be reunited. The set included four songs from Walking Into Clarksdale, the best of which was the haunting When the World Was Young.

But it wasn't the new songs that drew 13,000 rockers of all ages out on a weeknight. The first encore was Ramble On. This was followed by a full-shred version of Rock and Roll, with the crowd yelling along on the chorus.

It has indeed been a long time. Maybe next time we can dance up that stairway together.

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