The Song Remains The Same – The Music of Led Zeppelin With a 50 Piece Orchestra

The Song Remains The Same – The Music of Led Zeppelin With a 50 Piece Orchestra

Yes you did read correctly, it does say orchestra in the title. Rock and roll merges with classical music as conductor/arranger Brent Havens presents The Music of Led Zeppelin, a program he scored that extends the listening experience of Led Zeppelin’s timeless tunes. Now you would ask as I did, how can they maintain the power of such a super screaming rock and roll mega-band, riff for riff, while blending in new musical colors with 50, count em’, 50 orchestral instruments?

Think about incorporating just the double-reed instruments-the oboe, English Horn, bassoon, add in the violins, violas, cellos, basses, and woodwinds or more pure sounds from instruments like a flute or a clarinet, then add the entire brass section, like the trumpet, trombones, French horns, and the lower brass like the bass trombone and tuba and you begin to see just how large that task is. Then add a monster electric guitar, bass and drums with the addition of the electric violin and you have to go and listen for yourself to see if it is all that it seems to be. In conductor Havens’ words, “The Music of Led Zeppelin was to take the music as close to the originals as we could and then add some colors to enhance what Zep had done. The wonderful thing with an orchestra is that you have an entire palette to call upon.”

So there I was in a great seat in the Planet Hollywood Theater (the old Aladdin Performing Arts Center) in a unique position of listening to an orchestra tune their instruments to A-440 minutes before this rock concert opened. After a very informal hello, the lead singer Randy Jackson, not to be confused with the corpulent person from American Idol, dove into “Good Times, Bad Times” and by the end of the song I wanted to go to the sound console and throw the audio engineer aside as all I could be heard was a loud guitar and the overbearing vocals, not that they were bad-they were quite good-but this was to be with a 50 piece Orchestra and not an acappella concert. Yes it brought back memories, memories of concerts by bands such as The Grateful Dead when I wanted to throw audio mixer Dan Healy off of the mixing console as all you could hear was a screamingly loud lead guitar most of the time.

I don’t want to go into a diatribe, but I just can’t understand how hard it is when you’ve taken hours to carefully place microphones on every instrument, ran then to the board, equalized them, and then combined them to matrixed subgroups specifically for the purpose of being able to bring up and down volume of each grouping of instruments so one does not have to sit there and try to mix 60 instruments at once. If you’re going to combine an orchestra with a rock ‘n roll group, then you have to be able to hear the orchestra. It’s as simple as that. Now I understand it takes a couple songs to get in gear and I was willing to easily forgive the sound guy because mixing an orchestra is a daunting task, I know-I’ve done it more than a few times. Keep in mind, however, that the following is a no-brainer to understand especially if you’re going to mix a rock show – there is a certain dynamic level that can be achieved only by a minimum amount of volume overall and without that level of “push” through the sound system the feel and drive of the music is not there, regardless of genre.

George Cintron, the lead guitarist, did a phenomenal job laying down the lines of legendary Jimmy Page note for note and enjoying his job tremendously. Drummer Powell Randolph did an excellent job mimicking the late John Bonham’s inventive and melodic style. The bassist Dan Clemens was adequate, when you could hear him, in fact the orchestra was quite good when you could hear them and unfortunately it wasn’t until the encore, when the obligatory song “Stairway to Heaven” was performed that the true merging of all those instruments. The rock ensemble teamed together in a perfect wave of sound at the right volume to produce an absolutely incredible musical delight.

Perhaps it was because that was the only Zeppelin song the young audio mixer had ever heard, but I doubt it. Fortunately the great vocals and the excellent guitar work of Mr. Cintron salvaged the evening but I left only wondering how incredible it could have been. As this is the closest I will probably ever be to seeing Led Zeppelin live it was a nice revisit to the days of yore, when hotel rooms were routinely trashed and private 747’s crisscrossed the world delivering those young lads from one sold-out stadium to the next. The songs rocked and brought more than a few smiles to my face. A gray-haired Jimmy Page is smiling somewhere as well, as he reminisces and possibly prepares for one last reunion with his mates.