The Led Zeppelin Experience started as something of a fun side-project for Jason Bonham, but it’s turned into an ongoing experience that has been both emotionally moving for Jason and musically and spiritually satisfying for the fans.
The show included not only stellar musicians playing the music of Led Zeppelin, but Jason mixed into the show personal anecdotes, photos, and video clips. It included an introduction and a 25-foot by 40-foot-wide center screen with accompanying side displays and LEDs with moving lights, creating the whole Led Zeppelin concert experience from an insider’s perspective that Jason would provide when he would talk to the audience, looking back at the screen and explaining what was going on, reminiscing about many personal moments.
Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience is now embarking on a new phase with a 27-city summer tour opening for Heart, which will also include a finale that brings Jason together with the Wilson sisters. They have become known for rousing renditions of Led Zeppelin classics, which they’ve often included in their shows over the years and even recorded.
The tour came about almost by chance, after Led Zeppelin was honored in Washington, D.C., last year. “It came about purely after a performance I did with them at the Kennedy Center Honors this past November,” Jason explained to me. “It aired on tv after Christmas Day. They were paying tribute to the band, with the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock and Lenny Kravitz all paying homage to the guys. I was a total surprise for them! It was very emotional; I was crying. John [Paul Jones] had just turned to Jimmy [Page], and said, ‘Jason should be here to experience this.’ Then I walked out on stage. It was a very, very nice surprise for them. I thought the arrangement was wonderful, with the choir and strings and horns. It took it to another level. It created this wonderful feel. It was a very nice touch, to do that for them.”
After Jason saw the telecast, the tour idea was born. “That came out of watching it on tv,” he says. “I saw that performance, and I thought, ‘How can we expand on that?’ So we talked about it, and they talked a lot, and talked to my management. It will be my Led Zeppelin Experience, in a shortened show. We are going to open with a 45-minute set. Then Heart will play an hour and 10-minute set. Then my guitar player and I are going to join with Heart, minus their drummer, for a 45-minute Led Zeppelin set. It will be a 45-minute Led Zeppelin extravaganza, with a choir as well.”
The choir will add an extra touch to make it a spine-tingling experience for Led Zeppelin fans, but the tour show won’t include the personal touch provided by the screens showing home movies and anecdotes normally provided by Jason. “It was difficult to put the screens on stage, because you wouldn’t be able to see them,” he relates. “I never envisioned doing it without the screen and storytelling. But when you do it for 45 minutes, and with everyone seeing how strong the band is, hopefully you will say you really like the way we play this, and come see us do this with all the extra wheels and thrills.”
The band Jason will have with him is the same as he has been utilizing for the Led Zeppelin Experience for the past year, apart from the keyboard player, as they won’t have one on stage for this tour. But the songs will remain the same (no pun intended) and definitely include some of the ones that were favorites during the previous shows. “Definitely, I feel, to me, ‘Kashmir’ has always been one of my favorites,” says Jason. “And ‘When The Levee Breaks,’ especially when I play drums with dad using the loop technology. You can’t play that without John Bonham being on stage. I play the loop, and in comes the ‘Thunder God’ himself!
“Also, ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ is one we really put a lot of passion into. That’s the thing about Led Zeppelin; they were really craftsmen, including all kinds of things, blues and everything. They were a great all-around band.”
The group includes Tony Catania on lead guitar, who has been playing with Jason for years in various projects. The vocalist is James Dylan, who actually came from a tribute called Virtual Zeppelin, a YouTube sensation that had garnered several hundred thousand views before he came on board with the Led Zeppelin Experience. On bass, former Whitesnake member Michael Devin takes the helm.
Jason originally had a bit of trepidation about doing this type of show, and only came around the idea when he saw the Beatles tribute Rain. Seeing how well it was done and how well it was produced gave him the confidence that if done right, it could be a legitimate tribute to his father and the band. And he wasn’t disappointed in that the reaction has been beyond his expectations. Many jaded reviewers came to the shows with a chip on their shoulder, but left with a feeling of satisfaction they didn’t expect, even describing the show as a touching, and very moving, experience.
When Jason started considering the idea of taking the show on the road, he wanted to discuss the concept with Robert Plant. Robert told Jason to do it because he wanted to do it, not because he felt he had to because of industry or management pressure. He advised him that if he did it well, and with a smile on his face, he would have his blessing.
“I’m amazed at the response we’ve gotten everywhere we’ve played,” he exclaims. “Especially inMontreal; that was the most amazing experience I ever had on any stage in my life. It brought tears to my eyes. The noise and the chanting! We were Led Zeppelin on stage. It made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. I mean, it was just generally an amazing experience. I never thought something I did for a little bit of fun would continue!”
Catch Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience live at the following shows:
6/27 Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, NY
6/29 Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, NY
7/2 PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ
7/3 Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, NJ
7/4 Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT