Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Son of late Led Zeppelin drummer pays masterful tribute to band

Jason Bonham was 14 when his father, Led Zeppelin percussionist John Bonham, died in 1980. He brings his Led Zeppelin Experience to Louisville's Brown Theatre on Friday.
Jason Bonham was 14 when his father, Led Zeppelin percussionist John Bonham, died in 1980. He brings his Led Zeppelin Experience to Louisville's Brown Theatre on Friday. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience

8 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway in Louisville. $35, $45, $60. 1-800-775-7777. Kentuckycenter.org.

It might be a generalization, but these days, it is best to be wary of any band boasting a name that ends with the word experience.

Sure, there was a day when that seemed almost revolutionary. Take the latter half of the '60s, for instance, when a trio out of England claiming to be an "Experience" turned out to be exactly that. But then, adding the name Jimi Hendrix to the moniker helped.

Today, however, experience is usually the calling card of the dreaded tribute band — outfits, often with honorable intentions, that attempt to echo a long vanished or decimated pop enterprise still popular enough to command audiences consumed by nostalgia.

And then there is Jason Bonham.

At47, he remains the junior Bonham — forever the son of monster percussionist John Bonham, who fired the flames in the engine room of Led Zeppelin until his death in 1980. So one would suppose that if any drummer alive held claim to his dad's muddy rock 'n' roll boots and could rekindle even a shard of the mammoth energy produced by Zeppelin, which disbanded three months after the elder Bonham's death, it would be son Jason.

Then you hear him play. That's when you forget about what a tribute band is. Bonham has been performing his father's music for decades. He has been the only drummer, in fact, that Zeppelin co- founders Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones have turned to for the very rare occasions when Zeppelin took to the stage again. Luckily, the biggest and best of those reunions has been majestically preserved. It was unleashed to such rabid enthusiasm last fall that you almost thought the cherished Zep might soar for a full tour again.

Rumors came, and rumors crashed. In the end, what we got was Celebration Day, a wonderful glimpse of the present-day Zeppelin by way of a one-off 2007 concert in London — with Bonham on the kit, of course. Five years later, it was dusted off, spruced up and issued as a riotous concert film and recording.

No, it wasn't 1969 again. But the renewed joy in Page's playing, the more sagely wail now at Plant's disposal and the typically spotlight-shy Jones sounding as resourceful as ever on bass and keyboards seemed almost scholarly. It was a simultaneous chronicle and revival of a rock dynasty.

And Bonham? He was extraordinary. What he lacked in the element of pure danger that always seemed to guide his father's playing, he compensated for with precision: the prize fighter jabs during In My Time of Dying, the gorgeous simmering blues of Since I've Been Loving You and the regally elemental charge of Misty Mountain Hop. The vigor Bonham displayed was substantial and infectious. You could tell by the looks on the faces of his — and his father's — bandmates how profoundly his enthusiasm jolted their performance drive.

Flash forward to last December. Page, Plant and Jones were seated beside President Barack Obama for the Kentucky Center Honors. Act after act paid faulty tribute to the mighty Zep until Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart took the stage with Bonham to return Stairway to Heaven to its properly regal status.

The coalition stuck. Heart and Bonham have been touring all summer, ending their shows with a merry, mini-Zeppelin set.

But Friday at the Brown Theatre in Louisville, it will be nothing but Zeppelin music — everything from such requisite faves as Rock and Roll and Black Dog to album anthems like The Ocean and Kashmir — with Bonham's powerfully informed musicianship at the helm.

Now, that's what you call an experience.

Benefit for Thaddeus Greear

Local music mainstay Thaddeus Greear — of Oldman Lowdown notoriety, among other artistic endeavors — found himself on the wrong end of a collision on Nicholasville Road after a performance in late June. The mishap was all the more severe given that Greear was a pedestrian. He has been hospitalized ever since.

In an effort to offset some of his medical expenses, and to send overall good vibes and wishes to one of their own, a hearty ensemble of Lexington artists will be performing in Greear's honor Friday at Willie's Local Known, 805 North Broadway.

The bill includes Sherman House, Coralee and Friends, DeBraun Thomas, Jollett Hollow and Concrete Lilies. There also will be a raffle and silent auction for assorted goodies to help sweeten the proceeds. (6 p.m. $5. (859) 281-1116. Willieslex.com.)

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