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PLANT AND PAGE GET THE LED OUT

Come on, guys. Play "Stairway To Heaven" one more time?

No way. Not Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Not on this tour.

The former Led Zeppelin stars may be rock 'n' roll geezers, but their Monday night show was no stroll down Memory Lane.

It's not that Plant and Page shied away from playing songs popularized by their legendary band in the 1970s. In fact, by my count, 16 of the 22 songs in their two-hour set came from the albums recorded by that classic band of headbangers. But they stayed away from many of the group's most popular numbers, like "Stairway" and "Heartbreaker." This was a night for more obscure songs, like "Thank You," "Dancing Days," "Gallows Pole" and "Celebration Day."

It was also a night for introducing a rock audience to new twists, like Egyptian music, a 20-piece orchestra and a 12th century British instrument called the hurdy-gurdy.

So how was the long-awaited reunion show? Pretty darned entertaining. In fact, often spectacular.

Plant, 46 but looking about 30, can still wail away in that high-pitched voice of his. Page, who looks like hell at 51, remains the king of power-chord guitar. Even from where I was sitting -- in the baseball press box a good 400 feet from the stage -- his blistering solos shook the gut.

Backed at times by more than 30 musicians, Page and Plant straddled a tricky boundary. Their show had enough of a Led Zeppelin flavor to satisfy their rabid old fans. At the same time, the songs had enough new wrinkles to quiet those critics who feel that all rockers should die or be forced into retirement homes when they reach 40.

And for me, that was a pleasant surprise. I really didn't know what to expect from Page and Plant. After feuding for more than a decade, they decided this year to tour together once more. My concern was caused by some public whining the two have been doing in the rock press. They've been whining that their public expects them to crank out Led Zeppelin sounds on their tour.

"The whole idea is that there has always been some kind of ridiculous responsibility. That's what I wanted to get rid of," Plant said in a Rolling Stone magazine interview last month. "I didn't want to be responsible for everybody's idea of what it was before. (Expletive) that. There's no point in trying to pretend that you're immortal, and that you've returned once again to do that ultimate version of 'Stairway To Heaven.'

"I thought, 'Are we supposed to be Sinatra? Is this 'My Way'?"

He and Page were so worried their tour would be viewed as a "Led Zeppelin Reunion" that they never called the other surviving band member, John Paul Jones, to tell him of their plan. Jones had to read about it in the newspaper.

Anyway, Plant and Page need not have worried. They're doing things their way, and the audience, judging by the 30,000-plus at the SkyDome show, is eating it up.

I give them credit. They could have tossed together a five-piece band, ran through all their heavy standards and made millions. These guys are taking some chances. In addition to a keyboard player, a drummer, a bass player and backup guitarist, their backup band included, at various times, an eight-piece outfit from Cairo called the "Egyptian Pharoahs," and 20 members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

An orchestra on Led Zeppelin songs? They sounded great on the band's blues classic, "Since I've Been Loving You." And the whole aggregation blew the house away on the sparkling finale, "Kashmir."

There were unconfirmed rumors in the press box that this tour may be heading for Buffalo later this year. I hope it happens.

REVIEW
Led Zeppelin

Legendary rock band from the 1970s.

Monday night Toronto's SkyDome.

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