Jason Bonham Experience Goes “Bonzo” at the Susquehanna in Camden, NJ
I can remember the exact day that my life changed forever; it was my twelfth birthday.
On this day, my cousin who is five years my senior, handed me a flat square package wrapped in the Sunday comics. I knew by it’s shape, that it was a record album. What I didn’t know, was the profound impact that that copy of Led Zeppelin IV would have on my future.
Up until that point, my exposure to rock ‘n’ roll was my mother’s use of Elvis and Creedence Clearwater Revival records as motivators while she cleaned house. The receipt of that Zeppelin album opened up doors to me, no, make that a huge portal to my seemingly life long love affair with music and the band in particular. Being a drummer myself (I began playing at the age of eleven), I instantly fell in love with the power and drive of John Bonham. I became obsessed with his methods, technique and everything “Bonzo;” even to the point where I purchased a derby to wear while I practiced.
Sadly, I was never able to see my heroes in concert and with his untimely death in 1980, I knew that I never would. That said, when I was afforded the opportunity to cover the Jason Bonham Experience as they opened for Heart in Camden, NJ; I jumped at it. I had heard that Bonham and his band brought the music of Led Zeppelin to life, that they were the “next closest thing to seeing Zep;” I was skeptical at best. Skeptical only because, in my heart and mind there is nothing that is as close to Led Zeppelin in any form, unless Page, Plant and Jones are all together on the same stage.
When Bonham and his band appeared with the beginning of “In The Light” playing in the background, images of that young child from the film “The Song Remains The Same,” Jason playing his father’s drum kit, came to mind. Seeing the similarity in looks to his father transported me back to that film and my youth.
Opening the set with a rollicking version of “Rock ‘N’ Roll, straight out of the iconic film; I knew that this was already something special. The drum solo at the end was a recreation of his famous father’s and the swatch of “Heartbreaker” that transitioned into “Black Dog” was not unlike many of the bootlegged versions that I have in my collection.
By the time that the band hit the beginning of “Black Dog,” the crowd, who had largely been in line for food and drink, quickly rushed to their seats. Seemingly within seconds, the amphitheater filled just in time to respond to vocalist James Dylan as he called out and asked for a reply to the ”Ah Ahs.”
Next up was “Over The Hills And Far Away.” Prior to its introduction, Bonham took to the mic. and spoke to the crowd. “Thank you, thank you all for coming,” he said. “The music of Led Zeppelin has been handed down through generations, because people like all of you keep it alive. This, The Jason Bonham Experience is my way of telling my dad that I love him every night.” A huge roar followed as the band broke into the classic from “Houses Of The Holy.”
Lead guitarist Tony Catania stepped to the forefront as the band next performed a razor sharp version of “Led Zeppelin III’s” “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” Throughout the 55 minute set, Catania seemed to pay homage to Page with all of his little nuances and body motions; the only thing missing, was Jimmy’s black dragon embroidered pants. “Houses Of The Holy” and a smoking hot version of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” ensued, further revving up a crowd that had by now been transported back to their youth along with me. Taken back to a day when every high school parking lot had car stereo wars, where the Zeppelin always reigned supreme as kids would unwind after having their rock ‘n’ roll urges suppressed during a tedious day of learning.
Bonham once again took to the mic. and spoke fondly of his father and the extended family that is Led Zeppelin. “It is an honor to represent my family and Led Zeppelin,” he said. “When the film ”Celebration Day” was released, I remember performing that night. I remember I looked across at my uncles Jimmy, Robert and John Paul and thought, I’m in Led Zeppelin for one night, one night; but Led Zeppelin is not Led Zeppelin without John Bonham and it never will be again.” With that he asked the crowd to grasp his father’s attention by shouting “Bonzo” in unison and added, “He’s probably busy up in some bar in heaven. He’s probably jamming with Hendrix, or drinking with Moon. I have a dream job, music is fun. If my father was here, he’d provide this music to you but since my father isn’t, I’ll do it for you.” Still standing, Bonham proclaimed that there was, “Only one man who could play this next song properly, only one who ever will,” and the infamous drum beat of “When The Levee Breaks” blared over the P.A. system as he situated himself back down behind the drum kit and took over from there.
Ending with a shortened version of “Whole Lotta Love,” Jason implored the now capacity crowd to stay and support his “sisters” in Heart because he would be back for the encore, and what an encore it was! Utilizing half his band mates, members of Heart and the Wilson sisters, this high powered line up ripped into the best tribute to Led Zeppelin that has possibly ever been assembled. Beginning with Ann and Nancy’s solo version of “Battle Of Evermore” and ending with a riveting version of the monster classic “Stairway To Heaven,” Bonham filled his father’s shoes masterfully. A tasteful touch during “The Rain Song” gave way to the driving beat of “The Ocean” which, as the last cymbal crash faded, burst into “Physical Graffiti’s” “Kashmir.” Handling the vocals beautifully, Ann Wilson blazed through the often difficult highs, lows and extended notes that characterize this haunting tune; causing the crowd to erupt several times in appreciation.
Overall, the combination of Heart with The Jason Bonham Experience is a sensory overload. Both separately and together, these bands are a force. Bonham bangs his drums harder than “a screen door in a hurricane” and evokes continuous visions of his legendary father. His style is eerily reminiscent of the man he called “the teacher” and dad. A great concert to experience, Jason does his best to carry on the legacy of his father and the music of Led Zeppelin. I for one believe, that he’s succeeding quite nicely.