Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Masters @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Saturday 13th April 2019


Review by Andrew Manning

It is fifty years since the needle was put on the groove of the first Led Zeppelin long player introducing the world to the dynamic sounds of the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll band. From that moment on they took live performance standards to an unprecedented level with their raw power delivery of multi tiered epic compositions, grooving blues standards, some mind blowing heavy metal pieces alongside gentle acoustic ballads. As we all know everything came crashing down in 1980 when the irreplaceable Bonzo sadly left this earth having, along with his band of brothers, left us all a legacy of music to enjoy for many years to come.

Tonight it was the turn of the ‘Zep Boys’, quoted as Australia’s leading Led Zeppelin covers band, to provide their own interpretation of the music alongside the breathtaking might of the thirty five piece ‘Black Dog Orchestra’. Billed as Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Masters, the evening promised a no-holds barred concert of the legends finest masterpieces. Having started the year performing, with a different orchestra, for two nights at the iconic Sydney Opera House it was time for them to visit Birmingham to show why they are regarded as an institution in their homeland.

Well it was certainly an easy start on the ears with the orchestra playing a Zepperture, including segments of ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which provided a lavishly refined introduction creating a kaleidoscope of sounds and emotions. It was then time to rock as the ‘Zep Boys’ joined the party with stonking versions of ‘Good Times Bad Times’ and ‘Nobody’s Fault but Mine’. These four antipodeans from Adelaide have been performing the music of their heroes for over 30 years and this showed in spades as they smoothly shifted into gear fronted by the charismatic Vince Contarino, who in true Aussie fashion cursed all evening during his between song banter. Looking like he was ready for a stint on stage at a Mr Universe bodybuilding competition his vocals were more than fit for purpose as he reclaimed the legacy. Ranging from a restrained and sensitive vocal performance on ‘All My Love’, the song written for Robert Plant’s late son Karac, to the howling sounds of his voice on ‘The Song Remains the Same’, he was almost tailor-made for the evening.

Looking like the lovechild of Alice Cooper and Ronnie James Dio, it was the scintillating guitar playing of Tzan Niko which helped turn this into an event. Delivering a sonic psychedelic performance on ‘Dazed and Confused’, including the statutory use of the violin bow, he was knocking the ball out of the park as he coaxed all sorts of eerie noises from his instrument. Then on other pieces making it all look so authentic by bringing out his double neck Gibson guitar at the appropriate juncture. His performance was all about spine tingling riffola and exquisite solos. He has just released his first solo album ‘Ascension’ and based on what was heard tonight this will be well worth checking out.

The evening felt all the more special knowing that 95% of the Black Dog Orchestra were from Birmingham and they provided a symphonic edge that at times felt free and spontaneous. With Charlotte Beresford, on lead violin, opening set two with a bright middle-eastern tinged solo leading into the Arabic sounds of ‘Kashmir’, it was time to allow the audience to be immersed in a live rendition of one of the best pieces of rock music of all time.

The classics just kept on being delivered with ‘No Quarter’, the haunting tale of the Nordic raiding party, to the archetypal rock showstopper ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which was performed with the kind of majesty that this rock monster deserves. With drum solos not being everyone’s cup of tea it was with some trepidation when ‘Moby Dick’ started up. This was after all Bonzo’s showcase in the 70’s, lasting up to 20 minutes, while the rest of the band would leave the stage and head off for a smoke. Well with a truncated 8 minute version tonight, Bradley Polain absolutely pulled it off with his relentless thundering strokes on the skins winning the audience over.

This show was all about giving the people what they wanted and there was no time for the dust to settle as they rounded off the evening with a blast through of ‘Black Dog’ and the ‘Immigrant Song’, before the mother of all riffs ushered in ‘Whole Lotta Love’. They had succeeded in being so much more than a tribute band and even rebelled against the house rules by encouraging all to take pictures of the performance………..”We are a rock n roll band, so we can do what we want!!”

Tonight had been good….in fact it had been great. You get the feeling that Messrs Bonham, Jones, Page and Plant would have approved. The Orchestra had filled out the sound to help give the evening a sense of occasion but it was the Zep Boys who really cemented their reputation. These guys are the real deal and took everyone on a damn good ride for over 2 hours. Do yourself a favour and make sure you check them out the next time they head over to play for the pommies.

Set One
Good Times Bad Times
Nobody’s Fault but Mine
Over the Hills and Far Away
Ramble On
All My Love
The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song
Dazed and Confused
Rock and Roll

Set One
Violin Solo
No Quarter
Moby Dick
Going To California
Stairway to Heaven
Black Dog

Immigrant Song
Whole Lotta Love