When Robert Plant sang the haunting Ten Years Gone on Physical Graffiti nobody expected that fifty years gone Led Zeppelin aficionados would still be celebrating and performing the music of a band that reached its peak in the 1970s.
Yet in 2018, five decades on from the birth and demise of the world’s greatest rock band, their legacy lives on and their songs are being recreated to wildly enthusiastic audiences. And we have the band Coda to thank for keeping their music alive with great gusto and expertise. Indeed ‘Keep Zeppelin live!’ was the insistent chant from the floor when Coda appeared at the Flamingo Room, O’Neill’s, Wardour Street, Soho (October 18th).
The upper room of the venue was packed with fans who cheered the quartet that not only SOUNDED like Led Zeppelin, but actually managed to look eerily like the once youthful lads who revolutionised rock in 1968. We are so used to seeing the now somewhat weather beaten faces of the original members, it came as a shock to see Adam Rose-Alison (lead guitar), Peter Byrne (vocals), Rob Deery (bass guitar and keyboards) and Simon Wicker (drums) looking – well so YOUNG.
It has to be said that for those who saw Led Zeppelin in their earliest days, first contact with Coda is a bit alarming. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or shed a tear. It’s a bit like seeing ghosts or holograms come to life. But this was a sincere and moving tribute by a group of excellent, nay brilliant musicians who captured the spirit of the legendary group perfectly.
More importantly as Coda warmed up during this special gig billed as Celebrating 50 Years Of Led Zeppelin, they unleashed their own personalities and played with an interactive energy that was all their own. The first time I saw Zep ‘live’ was just a few hundred yards further up Wardour Street at the old Marquee Club in 1968. So it was quite a poignant experience to feel the same kind of excitement as the band launched into one of my favourite songs from the first album I Can’t Quit You Baby.
Adam, clad in the kind of Home Counties pullover once favoured by James Patrick Page, played the bluesy guitar theme with almost chilling accuracy as Peter matched him with a soulful Robert Plant-esque cry from the heart. It was at this moment that I warmed to these cheeky upstarts and realised they were for real. Talking of ghosts, I could imagine Zep manager Peter Grant would have approved too, if he were looking down from rock heaven (we hope not up), and would have bustled into the Flamingo Room demanding that their fee be tripled and they be sent off on an eight month tour of America.
Coda had warmed up with Train Kept A Rollin’ after a recorded Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman style announcement had welcomed them to the stage. “Are you ready? We are here tonight because we have good taste!” Soon the band were embarking on a magnificent rendition of the block busting Dazed And Confused with Rob Deely not only playing the famed bass line like John Paul Jones but even managing to look like him.
As Adam’s guitar rang out across Soho the use of a violin bow heightened the spine chilling effect of the haunting theme. Soon Coda were racing into the up tempo section of the arrangement, driven by Simon Wicker’s consistently explosive drumming.
It was during this successful recreation of a Zeppelin classic that a young girl dancing in front of the stage came into her own, long blond hair flying as she shook and shivered. This was not mere head banging. This was head ballet.
Coda showed they were not just about recreating the excitement of a rock band playing at high speed and maximum volume, when they performed a sensitive treatment of Thank You from Led Zeppelin II. This was of course Robert Plant’s magnum opus, the song which first established him a substantial lyricist. Peter Byrne rose to the occasion singing If the Sun refused to shine I would still be loving you. When mountains crumble to the sea here would still be you and me…to rhapsodic keyboard accompaniment.
Ah, ha but now what!? Yes it was time for Simon Wicker to shine on that tumultuous explosion of percussive power, the thunderous Moby Dick drum solo also from Led Zeppelin II. Mustachioed Simon blessed with unfathomable reserves of energy was left on his own to execute the famous battering snare, tom tom and bass drum patterns with stunning accuracy.
He even recreated the bare handed routine that often drew blood when I espied Bonzo playing his showcase number on tour. John Bonham would have been proud of him. And Robert Plant would have bowed and presented him with a banana.
There was more to come! Yes the crowd, who had cheered Moby Dick now leapt to their feet for an extremely fast Communication Breakdown. To complete the madness Adam stepped in front of a real Theremin to pass his hands over the aerial and produce spooky effects in time honoured Pagian tradition. The first set ended with a medley during which I tossed aside my notebook, raised a glass of lager and just enjoyed every note.
What better way to celebrate 50 Years of such great music and the achievements of giants who once roamed the earth. Go see them. Not so much a Coda as a new beginning…CHRIS WELCH