Sure, Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest guitar-centric, riff-oriented rock bands of all time, but they were also masters at folding lush orchestration into their thunderous, genre-defining catalog. Succeeding where many have failed, Zeppelin effortlessly blended flutes and ‘cellos with Les Pauls and Marshall stacks on dozens of tracks, without once pandering to the classical crowd.
So on May 22nd, 2013 I was off to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre for an evening of Led Zeppelin music played by Canada’s national orchestra. But this was no Muzak version, the stage featured a rock band (drums/guitar/bass) fronted by an admirable vocalist; the NACO would serve as backup musicians.
It was a great night of music, done much better than many of these types of shows I’ve seen before. Songs like All Of My Love and Kashmir were a given, as was the beautiful Rain Song, but the orchestra dug in and delivered on some unexpected rockers like Black Dog, Whole Lotta Love, and The Immigrant Song.
Just like every high school dance from my youth the evening ended with the ubiquitous Stairway To Heaven. You could almost hear the orchestra members rolling their collective eyes, but the crowd ate it up, myself included.
All in all, I think this stands as probably the most fun I’ve had at one of these Pop’s orchestral tribute shows. To be honest some of them have come off as nearly dreadful*, but yeah, this Led Zeppelin one was pretty darn cool. Of course, so was Led Zeppelin.
*Like the Queen one, and Queen was pretty cool too. But I think Queen reached for the symphony a bit too hard without quite getting there, something that appears quite apparent when you hear their music actually being played by a symphonic orchestra. Zeppelin, on the other hand, never tried to be anything but the best, most innovative rock band ever, which sometimes involved inviting an orchestra into the studio to help them innovate. In the end, those two attitudes create a pretty big difference.