The song remains the same?

By - Nov 12th, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Ellen Burmeister


Once regarded as the epitome of the excesses of the 1970s rock landscape, Led Zeppelin is currently undergoing a revival of sorts, which is expected to culminate in a much-heralded reunion concert in London this December.

For those of us who can’t book a flight to Heathrow, an admirable substitute came to the Riverside Theater November 9 as a 50-piece subset of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Under the direction of composer/arranger Brent Havens, they presented “The Music of Led Zeppelin”, a “rock symphony” of fifteen of the band’s best loved tunes. Notching up the rock chops of the ensemble were – most notably – vocalist Randy Jackson, guitarist George Cintron, electric violinist Allegra, and drummer Powell Randolph (granting the crowd a sampling of a truly Bonham-worthy solo on “Moby Dick”).

While no one can match the vocal acrobatics and writhing tight-pants sensuality of Robert Plant at his peak, Randy Jackson proved that the art of rock vocals is a worthy equivalent to that of any other highly trained vocal discipline, especially when backed by a professional ensemble. Almost academic in his approach, Jackson gave a thrilling “reading” of the varied styles in the Led Zepplin playbook – classic rock, blues, and even English folk – and played some great acoustic guitar as well.

Kudos to guitarist Cintron and violinist Allegra as well. Jimmy Page’s fabulously inventive and complex riffs got their due props thanks to this unique splitting and doubling of his musical vision among these two talented musicians, particularly on “Black Dog” and “Heartbreaker.”

And – despite the challenges of competing with an amplified bass line that approached “11” – the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra brought a rich timbre to the tracks. Subtle changes such as the addition of an oboe to the flute meanderings on “Stairway to Heaven” or the lush backup lines on “In the Evening” reminded the appreciative audience of the beauties hidden in tracks so often taken for granted. And of course, “Kashmir” never sounded more exotic or epic as when a full orchestra takes on its throbbing rhythm and evocative harmonics.

The capacity crowd was visibly proud of its hometown orchestra (a terrific outreach project for the MSO if there ever was one) and participated wholeheartedly in every opportunity for interaction that arose. By the time “Stairway” reared its ubiquitous head (complete with the rarely heard guitar and vocal prelude), there was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction in the crowd. No one was alarmed by bustles in their hedgerows. VS

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