Jan 6, 2019
Led Zeppelin Masters returned to the Sydney Opera House for what has become a regular curtain raiser to the new year.
Led Zeppelin Masters combines the visceral grunt of The Zep Boys, a long standing rock act that absolutely crushes the canon of Zeppelin, with the 32 piece Black Dog Orchestra.
In reality the orchestra on this run of shows was comprised of members of the Sydney Lyric Orchestra, led by the chameleon violinist Adrian Keating and conducted by the effusive Dominic Harvey.
Charismatic front man Vince Contarino worked the room over two acts like the pro he is, channeling Robert Plant's power and howls at will.
Tzan Niko on guitar did a fantastic job delivering Jimmy Page's thunderous riffs. He sported a bevy of Zep approved axes, including three Les Paul standards, a tasty Telecaster (used on 'All of my Love') and the iconic EDS1275 doubleneck for 'Stairway to Heaven' amongst other tunes. Niko nailed Page's live tone, including the treble boost wah riddled 'Whole Lotta Love', through a pair of full Marshall stacks.
Warwick Cheatle - who also serves as Zep Boys' musical director - tranversed the stage with a '70s Jazz Bass driving an SVT rig. Cheatle and Contarino both flexed impressive acoustic guitar chops during an excellent reading of 'Going to California'.
John Bohnam's much copied drum sound has been analysed infinitum, but needless to say it is as much a product of Bonzo's attack and pocket as any studio processing. Bradley Polain captured this vibe in spades and got to stretch out in the instrumental 'Moby Dick'.
One of the obvious and great thrills of the show were the orchestral arrangements. Experiencing 'Kashmir' live in its epic glory was sublime. Likewise, hearing John Paul Jones mellotron parts translated to a string section were both exhilarating and testament to Jones' arranging chops.
Jimmy Page is heralded as a genius in the studio and rightly so. The orchestral arrangements cleverly handled some of Page's trademark overdubs - such as the slide call and response at the end of the '...Stairway' solo and the glissandos of 'Whole Lotta Love'.
Other pieces - like 'Dazed and Confused' and 'Immigrant Song' - sounded like they were always destined for strings and horns to augment their riffs.
The acoustics of the Sydney Opera House' Concert Hall have often been derided as being unsuitable for many of the rock and jazz acts that play there. None of those concerns seemed relevant at this show and the Front of House engineer deserves a shout out for a brilliant balancing act between the heft of the core band and the dynamics of the orchestra.
Led Zeppelin Masters current run of shows continues in Melbourne, with a tour of Europe following later in 2019.
Matt Wakeling is a working guitarist and music educator from Sydney, Australia. Matt produces the Guitar Speak Podcast, an interview style podcast that has included guests such as Dweezil Zappa, Andy Timmons, Zakk Wylde, Brian Wampler, Scott Henderson, Gretchen Menn, Brett Garsed and many more world class guitarists.
Matt has written for Cyclic Defrost dissecting explorative and experimental music.
Matt’s ‘Tone and Sound - Gear Guide’ blogs for jam.buzz have looked at the rigs used by John Mayer, Jimmy Herring, Trey Anastasio, Marcus King, Phil Lesh, Eric Krasno, Warren Haynes and others musicians.