A member of rock n’ roll royalty passed through town Saturday night at Mtelus in Montreal. Jason Bonham, son of legendary drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham, took the stage alongside a strong lineup of musicians to deliver a heartfelt and gut-busting tribute to his father, and the music and spirit of Led Zeppelin.
There was no opening act for the night. Bonham and company got straight to the action, and so will I. The show started with some pictures and videos of his father, accompanied by Jason narrating the origin story of the Bonham legacy. It was a great premise as to the nature of the tribute show. For those who may not know, John Bonham suffered an untimely death at the age of 32, which effectively ended Led Zeppelin’s incredible career. While I am generally not a fan of tribute bands, it was clear that there was going to be a little bit more magic to this show in comparison to other Zeppelin acts.
Opening with the thunderous “Immigrant Song”, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience (JBLZE) was underway, and it rolled tight and heavy until the very end. From fan favourites like “Good Times Bad Times” and “Stairway to Heaven” to epics like “Kashmir” and “No Quarter,” the band delivered a healthy fix to a thirsty crowd. Even so, it would have been nice to have heard even more staple Bonzo tracks like “When the Levee Breaks,” “Four Sticks,” or even just a solo from Bonham. People were hungry for a ferocious display of the serious heat that he was packing.
Either way, it was amazing to see the impact that a band like Led Zeppelin has had on the world. The balcony, for example, was filled with an older crowd, some of who had actually seen the real deal back in the day. The floor, on the other hand, was filled with the youth of today. To them (myself included), the show was probably one of the most authentic Zeppelin experiences they could hope to capture in this day and age. Regardless, the infectious groove powered by pure Bonham blood had everyone dancing to the music.
A huge part of the succesful delivery of such a daunting setlist was the lineup of musicians that accompanied Bonham on stage. Having parted ways with long-time guitarist Tony Catania, Jimmy Sakurai (also known as Mr. Jimmy) of Japan had taken on the position of axe-man, and holy houses-of-the-holy does he do a mighty fine job. Not only did he have the chops, the touch, and the mojo to step into the roll of original Zeppelin guitar master Jimmy Page, he also looked and moved so much like him the resemblance was uncanny. From the hair, to the clothes, to the tall and lanky build, Sakurai did a great job bringing the spirit of Page to the show.
Leading the melodic front alongside Mr. Jimmy was singer James Dylan. Although we did not get the flash that comes with Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant, we were lucky to get a rock solid vocal performance from Dylan. Duplicating Plant’s vocals is no easy feat. Finally, it seems that greatness of John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin bassists and keyboard player) were too much for just one man. Dorion Heartsong (bass) and Alex Howland (keys) split the rolls and laid down serious groove the entire night, helping solidify the lineup’s tightness and punch. Altough Howland was tucked away just out of my sight, his parts on “No Quarter” were incredible. That song in particular really channeled the magic of Zeppelin, as it was one of many songs that the band carried it into epic jams. Rightfully so they received a standing ovation from the crowd after touching down with the keyboard classic.
Throughout the night, Bonham would take moments in between songs to talk to the crowd and communicate what this whole experience has meant to him. It is not every show where you find a drummer that commands so much attention and respect, yet he seemed humble and down-to-earth. He also expressed, on several occasions, his love for Montreal crowds, and with good reason too. Montrealers showered the band in applause and cheers the entire night, singing along and fully embarking on the trip. Needless to say, after the band finished up their “last song” of the night, the crowd wanted more. Mtelus was roaring with the infamous “Olay” chant as the people tried to summon the musicians back to the stage for a few more.
The atmosphere was impossible to walk away from. JBLZE came back to deliver a crushing version of “Whole Lotta Love,” followed by “Rock N’ Roll” to close out the night. “Whole Lotta Love” was insane, taking off on a tangent jam which eventually led to some blistering theramin action on Mr. Jimmy’s behalf. It also spawned a classic moment of call-and-response between Sakurai on the theramin and Dylan’s vocals. It was pure Zeppelin spirit, and my favourite moment of the night. Bonham at one point said that he wished he could take the Montreal crowd wherever he goes; which is great, because I am sure everyone in that room would have liked that very much.
The legacy of John Bonham and the magic of Led Zeppelin were celebrated to the fullest that night. Definetly something to be proud of if one considers themselves part of the Zeppelin family.
Written by Ben Cornel
Photography by Eric Brisson Photography
*edited by Kate Erickson