By Ally Balcerzak
There is something to be said about seeing a woman old enough to be your grandmother head-banging next to a boy in high school who is screaming his lungs out. No, I wasn’t witnessing a violent crime. I saw this (and so much more) at Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience on November 4th at the Town Ballroom.
As a Zeppelin virgin, I had no idea what to expect as I drove down to the show with my friend Eric. I’ll be honest: I had my doubts as to whether or not we’d be the only people under 40 in the club. After all, aside from Eric and my boyfriend, who happens to be a big fan of classic rock, the majority of my friends looked at me like I had three eyes when I asked if they were Zeppelin fans. To everyone that looked at me like that: you missed a fantastic concert.
I’ve been to my fair share of shows at the Town Ballroom, but the atmosphere was drastically different this time around. Instead of mobs of obnoxious screaming girls, there were clusters of adults standing around the bar quietly chatting as they drank their beverage of choice. Until you walked into the main stage area, the atmosphere felt more like a corner bar than a concert. But once fully inside, the energy level spiked dramatically.
It is standing room only at the Town Ballroom and people had clearly arrived early to land the perfect spot on one of the numerous landings (for those 40 and older) or down in the pit (under 40 and those hardcore Zeppelin fans who had seen them on one of their original tours). As Eric and I found a spot off to the side of the stage, I couldn’t help but notice just how big the age range was. It is rare that a single band can bring three different generations together for a show, but Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience did just that.
For those of you who know nothing about classic rock, Jason Bonham is the son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Tribute bands are everywhere, but when the son of one of the band’s original members puts on a show, you can bet it is going to outdo any other tribute concert. And they did.
The band took the stage a little after eight o’clock, immediately drawing the audience in with their stage presence. Videos and pictures from Jason’s childhood filled a screen set up behind the band, allowing the audience to feel more connected to him and the late John Bonham. After playing their opening song, Jason stepped out from behind his drum set and came center stage. He spoke fondly of memories he has from growing up with a rock star father, cracking jokes as more photos flashed across the screen. When pictures of the expensive Bentley’s his father owned showed up, Jason quipped that he got his first one as a little kid. Everyone in the audience hung on to every word that Jason said. I’ve never seen an audience so enthralled with a single member of a (tribute) band.
As Jason wrapped up his speech, he told the story of his first encounter with Led Zeppelin music. He spoke of a droning organ coming from the speakers of his father’s record player, “Years later I’d realize I was hearing side two of Led Zeppelin One. Let’s take a walk down memory lane.” And that is exactly what we did.
The rest of the band came back on stage and began playing “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” a Zeppelin classic. People young and old sang along to every word of the song. By the time the song was over, even I had caught on to the chorus and had joined in the singing.
In Buffalo, we know how to rock, which Jason was quick to acknowledge once the final notes rang out. “That is a first,” he said, “we have never had an audience sing that song.” The audience chuckled and then prepared to belt out the lyrics for the next song, and every one until the end of the show.
Sometimes when you talk to someone who was alive in the sixties and seventies, they compare concerts to religious experiences because the atmosphere was so full of energy. Of course, back then the music was only as good as the musicians themselves: there was no fancy equipment to make the singers vocals sound more powerful or the guitarist’s solo sound faster than it really is. Watching Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin experience play for a packed house full of people who connected solely by the music is one concert experience I will not be forgetting anytime soon. By the end of the show, it didn’t seem to matter how young or old you were, if you were there you had become a part of something bigger than yourself. Let’s see Justin Bieber do that.