Though the weather outside was frightful, there was plenty of heat on the Kleinhans Hall stage Saturday night. “The Music of Led Zeppelin,” the latest offering from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in its BPO Rocks series, was the perfect antidote to the winter storm and sub-freezing temperatures.
Indeed, the energy onstage was matched by the buzz of the near-capacity crowd, many sporting band tour shirts, psychedelic attire and Harley Davidson gear, with even a glow stick or two dotting the audience. The night did have its own rich history attached, as this concert marked 50 years since Led Zeppelin’s 1969 appearance at Kleinhans.
As one of several acclaimed rock/orchestra collaborations by Windborne Music, “The Music of Led Zeppelin” owed much of its success to the BPO’s guest artists, all of whom seemed to carry the original group in their DNA. Pulling double duty as both lead vocalist and unofficial emcee, Randy Jackson proved a natural fit in the Robert Plant role. A veteran rock recording artist, Jackson nailed Plant’s signature rasps, growls and stratospheric range with ease.
Jackson also showed considerable chops as a host, with a relaxed ease in his storytelling, and his clever take on turning “Black Dog” into the ultimate audience sing-along. Stepping in for Jimmy Page, George Cintron’s effortless guitar skills were another highlight, particularly his take on the bluesy “Since I’ve Been Loving You.”
At events like this, the most pressing critical issue is not how well did the BPO play (fantastically, by the way), but how faithful were the orchestral arrangements to the original product? As with fellow classical-crossover favorites Metallica and The Rolling Stones, the grandeur and epic scope of Led Zeppelin’s music lends itself well to symphonic backing, and here conductor/arranger Brent Havens’ work did not disappoint. With the added backing of the BPO strings, the iconic guitar growls and riffs of “Kashmir” took on even greater menace.
Still, for all the audience ovations generated by the guest artists, it was fitting that some of the loudest cheers of the evening were saved for the BPO musicians, who were clearly having a great time but still delivering the goods like seasoned pros. On a night that ended up being a rally for hometown pride (as Jackson noted to roars of audience approval, “Man, it’s Buffalo! They live their lives in the snow!”), celebrating this extraordinary orchestra by way of Led Zeppelin somehow felt entirely appropriate.
"The Music of Led Zeppelin," Jan. 19 in Kleinhans Music Hall.