Pity the poor Led Zeppelin fan. The rock titans rolled the years back at the O2 Arena five years ago, but only 20,000 of the 20m who applied for tickets witnessed it. The rest wait in vain for a full reunion tour, the chances of which appear to be somewhere between slim and zero. “There are no plans for a Zeppelin reunion. Basically there isn’t a band,” John Paul Jones told the FT last month. Slim just left town.
As though to reinforce the point, Jones appeared with another trio of musicians on Sunday. Led Zeppelin’s bass player was with Supersilent, a Norwegian avant-garde improvisational threesome with whom he first linked up at a festival in 2010. Their music is dissonant and complicated, but their working methods are straightforward. Just turn up, plug in and play. Follow the sounds wherever they go.
There was a time when Jones, 66, found a similar degree of freedom in Led Zeppelin. His performance tonight showed that he still thrives on it. Standing centre stage with his bass guitar, he was flanked by the three members of Supersilent. Ståle Storløkken was at the keyboards, Helge Sten played guitar and produced electronic beats while Arve Henriksen impressively divided his time between trumpet, drums, singing and electronics.
The show began with Jones lightly brushing his bass as Henriksen blew a swirling eastern motif on his trumpet. The smattering of Zeppelin fans present thought wistfully of “Kashmir”. But then the music headed off to a very different place, beats popping like fireworks, Storløkken dashing out frantic keyboard solos as though providing an adrenaline-fuelled history of prog rock. An unruffled Jones kept time with fast bass riffs, carefully watching the other musicians to check for changes in mood or direction.
Successful improvisation requires discipline, as with Led Zeppelin’s jams, powered by the great bass/drum partnership between Jones and John Bonham. Supersilent’s spontaneous compositions were less groove-based, but didn’t lapse into form-free self-indulgence either. The set was broken into suites, each with a distinct character. One ended with an awesome drum assault. Another was built around juddering industrial funk.
The recurring eastern theme was the only misstep: a passage of wild vocal ululations smacked of musical tourism. Otherwise it was exhilarating and powerful. At the end Jones breathed out deeply and grinned at his younger colleagues. The fact that he remains at the height of his powers can only tantalise the poor Zeppelin fan even further.