Disclaimer: The good stuff is at the bottom. You don't have to read my ponderings
One of the great joys of my musical career will always be the time I've spent on stage with Jimmy Sakurai. When I initially played Led Zeppelin's music with him back in 2015, I was very familiar with a lot of Zeppelin's live catalog, but pretty green when it came to performing and executing them in a live setting, where a certain fearlessness has to prevail in almost every moment you're onstage. Jimmy and the guys in Zepagain were very supportive and patient while I got my feet underneath me, and we were fortunate to play often enough that I could swing and miss and be given an opportunity to try again soon. Usually, the next night. At it's best, we flirted with a stillness that comes with being on the same wavelength throughout a song, or, in the best of experiences, a whole show. Icarus would only lose his wings because I just didn't quite have as many of the chops down as technically proficient as I would've liked them, and had to muster up cheated, shorthand versions of iconic bonham licks (the call-and-response sticking in the 1973 Dazed and Confused, in particular, was something I knew in regards to how it was supposed to be played, but just could not get my brain to connect with my body to make that fluid. So, I tiptoed by with simplified stickings that sounded the part, but crushed my soul in shame). While there's still an ocean's worth of Bonham's parts or performances I'll never be able to figure out or replicate (never say die!), I have worked through a lot of the earlier hitches I had, and since rejoining Jimmy in 2022, it's been really satisfying to throw all the experience I'd gained since our last time together on stage, which was in January of 2017. Now, during the performances, there's often just a stillness of all minds existing as one. I think we've played barely ten shows over the last two years, but with Alexis Angel on bass and keys, and August Young as the singer (along with a lot of the other talented cats that are involved with the project at various points), it's really exciting thinking about the prospect of recreating as many of our favorite moments from Led Zeppelin bootlegs as possible! There's a depth of understanding that everyone brings to the table that allows for total trust to go maximum crazy, and it's led to some pretty transcendent moment's already. In fact, as cool as the footage is that's just down below, the show I really wish had been filmed was our performance at a tiny little restaurant called Harry's in Pismo Beach, CA. There were around 300 people there (maybe less?), but we flew into chaos and insanity on horses of thunder, and rode as knights of one mind throughout that whole night. Of course, there wasn't a lot of footage from that show, and even Jimmy's recorder somehow got wiped (he records every show so we can critique and try to build off the good stuff), so it's very possible I'm romanticizing the evening. Still, the trust that's developed in the band has taken us into interesting, but incredibly fun, territory. In fact, I don't think the band really has a manifesto to its approach on how we play the music. There have been quite a few times I'm pretty sure we've gotten to the end of a song or two and come pretty darn close to being as accurate to Led Zeppelin's performance as we could possibly muster. 'How The West Was Won,' is a good example of that. I think we all have a pretty healthy respect that you can't top that kind of perfection, so we just aim to reproduce it as faithfully as possible. However, 1973 is a different beast for me. In as magical as we've always wanted the film, 'The SOng Remains The Same,' to be, it's pretty tough to listen to those performances when you know how much better almost every other show was on that tour. And if you throw in how incendiary the band (minus Plant's Flu-ridden vocals) were throughout their early '73 European tour, then my -it could be argued, ignorant- ears have a really hard time enjoying, 'The Song Remains The Same,' these days. I still love all the stuff I originally loved - Bonham's performance, through-and-through. and there are definitely fleeting moments of brilliance scattered throughout, but it's an otherwise sluggish performance. That being said, The Garden Tapes - the almost complete recordings of all three nights at Madison Square Garden from 1973 - are a worthwhile listen. There's a lot of good material that just could not fit into the constraints of the movie or soundtrack, and it paints a much better light of their honest performances. With all that said, the other half of the approach we land on in Mr. Jimmy is to mix-and-match a little bit, and try and create more "band moments," as Jimmy likes to call them. When you start editorializing in your performances, you definitely open yourself up to potentially valid criticism - that there's no way I or anyone else would know better than John Bonham or the other members of Led Zeppelin in regards to how they would approach the songs, let alone try to improve on their performance, so we should be sticking to playing the songs accurately to the soundtrack. That's what the public is used to hearing, and that's also how you prove your chops for a lot of musicians and fans. In trying to recreate a little of that, "Edge of insanity," that Zeppelin were known for at their best live shows, It's started to feel the most thrilling to be able to pull from any possible Zeppelin performance we can remember and execute in the moment, just so long as it's true to something that a member of Zeppelin actually played. Of course, a little "You," always slips in there, but the intention is always to keep it to performances that are specific to that tour or era of Led Zeppelin, although I'm still a sucker for trying to throw early-era Bonham licks into all the various years we perform. I think If you were to tally up all the hours of bootleg listening amongst everyone in the band, you'd have a senior citizen with an uncanny ear for big, boomy sounding audience recordings from the back of a concert hall, so it's fun to try and utilize all those hours into something that feels familiar, but is still a little dangerous and unpredictable. Those big moments you want to hear should still be there, but there are some different paths we can go down to get there and still wind up at the right finish line. That's the approach you're going to see us take in the videos below, and those videos are what all this rambling has been about... What Kikuchi Kou and his crew have done to capture the show is nothing short of incredible, in my opinion. the energy that he's pulled out of the performance is something I'm really, really proud and excited to have been a part of. I thought we played pretty well that night, but Kou-san has created this sense of verisimilitude in the shots and camera movements he's used that I can only wish every fan of Led Zeppelin that's ever wanted to jam with them or recreate these moments, got to experience. I didn't know I was living it in the moment, but Kou-san just made me feel like I got to be in Led Zeppelin for a show. It's a little embarrassing to admit to, and admitting to it is guaranteed to serve up multiple slices of humble pie from the interwebz, but it really feels like he deepfaked me into the movie and removed all the fantasy sequences. I mean, I'm embarrassed a little by the wig - my real hair would probably look that Sheperton Studios if I were to grow it out that long (soooo curly), but even still, I really wish I had done more to tame the heathen I was wearing that night...Straighten it...shorten it a little. It's passable in some shots, but yes - I am embarrassed.
I really hope you guys enjoy these! Thank you, Kou-san! You're the Martin Scorsese of turning guys dressed up like other guys into the coolest-feeling experience in the whole world!