If Jason Bonham ever decided to give up rock & roll, he’s a shoo-in as a stand-up comedian. He won over the sold out crowd in Biloxi this weekend with witticisms about his late father, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and the ages of those who worshipped at the Zeppelin altar when the band was still making original music. “Some of you were conceived to these songs … some of you did the conceiving,” he joked as he introduced “Over The Hills & Far Away” early in the set. But for much of the night, he let the music do all the talking.
John Bonham does not lack for admirers. Hardly a drummer playing today does not look to him for inspiration, did not pick up sticks as a kid after hearing “Moby Dick” or “Whole Lotta Love.” He is the king they all aspire to be. But they all lack one little thing: his blood. Jason Bonham has both the physical and musical DNA to bring to life his father’s playing, his style and his rhythm that charged up “When The Levee Breaks,” “Trampled Underfoot” and “Rock & Roll.” “I take this very seriously,” the Bonham offspring said with a tap of his fist to his heart. “We have a passion to do this.”
The “we” includes singer James Dylan, a young man Bonham found via the internet as the story goes, guitar player Tony Catania, bass player Dorian Heartsong and keyboard player/rhythm guitarist Alex Howland. Bonham has surrounded himself with solid players, especially Catania, who has been with Bonham since the late nineties, in the Zeppelin Experience as well as Bonham’s solo band. Catania brings a slight Jimmy Page aura to his stage presence along with some super chops. Heartsong, though, is probably the unsung hero of the band, having to lay down the John Paul Jones lines that holds these songs so perfectly together, and he does an excellent job, “The Wanton Song” and “The Ocean” being spotlights of his contributions.
Bonham himself has a long history in his own right. Always a drummer, and a drummer in high demand for many years, he was in Virginia Wolf and Bonham in the eighties and nineties, and most recently Black Country Communion with Joe Bonamassa, California Breed with Glenn Hughes and The Circle with Sammy Hagar. He has played behind Foreigner, Heart and the members of Zeppelin itself – Page, Jones and Robert Plant. His Led Zeppelin Experience has been touring off and on since 2010.
Starting out right on time with an opening short film about his father, it segued right into “Rock & Roll,” “Wearing & Tearing” and “Good Times, Bad Times.” Bonham then stood up behind his drum kit to talk a bit about his father, encouraging people to sing and, “If you make some noise, you become part of the experience.” That was all the encouragement the crowd needed to stand and sing along with the band. They took to the aisles and started dancing, showering the musicians with lots of love, giving a loud standing ovation following “Trampled Underfoot” and “Stairway To Heaven,” and going nuts when Bonham banged on the gong behind him.
With a big screen in the back, footage of John was on display during several songs; other times it was moody psychedelic images that captured the spirit of the music being played. Otherwise, it was the five guys onstage evoking the heartbeat of 1970’s rock & roll. Catania pulled out the double-neck for “Stairway To Heaven” and had the special effect sounds whizzing past us on “Whole Lotta Love.” But it was that drum sound that pounded it home. Those big, loud, monstrous drums. And Jason Bonham certainly knew how to make them come alive.
The setlist was rounded out by “Kashmir,” “Thank You,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Fool In The Rain,” “What Is & What Should Never Be,” and half of “Immigrant Song” that jumped into “Whole Lotta Love” to end the show. A huge disappointment, though, was the axing of “Moby Dick” due to time restraints. It didn’t feel right it not being played but otherwise, the evening still provide lots of thunder.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough