Page and Plant shake the Led out on their latest tour

March 19, 1995|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

NEW YORK — TC New York -- Jimmy Page and Robert Plant do like to talk.

Given their historic reticence around the press -- an understandably tight-lipped response to all the years in which Led Zeppelin had to endure both sneering reviews and sensationalist profiles -- this is not their most celebrated trait. But here they are, hunkered down in a posh suite at the Essex House on a cool, October afternoon, nattering away about everything and anything -- including the fact that they're really too tired to be doing all this talking.

"I'm knackered," sighs Plant as he sinks gratefully into an overstuffed chair.

"We only got in last night," adds Page, suppressing a yawn.

Worse, it was only just beginning to get busy for these two. After a globe-spanning round of interviews, they had rehearsals in England with their new band, followed by their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January. Then, after a few more weeks of rehearsal, it would be off on the world tour that started Feb. 25 in Florida (and brings them to the USAir Arena Wednesday and Thursday).

Still, that doesn't stop either from holding forth at length on such varied topics as Otis Rush, Julian Cope, Oum Kalthoum, Ibizan football cheers and market etiquette in Marrakech.

In fact, the only subject they don't bring up is the one most of

their fans can't keep away from: Whether or not the Page/Plant pairing constitutes a Led Zeppelin reunion.

Ask the question directly -- "Is this a Led Zeppelin reunion?" -- and Plant offers a neat dodge. "It's whatever you saw when you watched the film," he says, referring to the MTV special, "Jimmy Page/Robert Plant (Unledded)."

But after all the talk over the years of a Zep reunion, the issue must be difficult to avoid.

"Only if you discuss it," answers Plant, frosting slightly. "I mean, we're going to talk to you about our music now, and our ambitions now. But they are very present tense and future tense.

"I'm sure that we could do 'Black Dog,' but I don't think it should be done in the same kind of hedonistic, macho approach which I employed [with Zeppelin]. For me, at my point in time now, I don't have to cavort around, selling the song like that. It's inappropriate, it's hackneyed, and it's been done to death. And not only by me."

Perhaps that's why the Page/Plant "Black Dog" has traded that testosterone bluster for an arrangement built around a reconfigured guitar riff and a didgeridoo drone. Or why many of the other Led Zep oldies they're performing sound almost nothing like the originals, from the exotic, Egyptian-flavored rendition of "Kashmir" to their tart, hurdy-gurdy-driven treatment "Nobody's Fault But Mine."

It's worth noting that the stylistic distance between Page and Plant's "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and the Led Zeppelin version is really no greater than that from Zep's to Blind Willie Johnson's original. Likewise, the duo's current interest in Moroccan, Egyptian and Indian music not only dates back to the Led Zeppelin era, but is plainly audible on some of the old albums.

Still, these two have only so much patience for the Led Zep legend and its most obvious trappings. "Stairway to Heaven," for instance.

"Perhaps we could do 'Stairway' on a dance mix!" jokes Plant at one point. "That'd be good fun. Nobody'd get married to it anymore. In fact, all the people who got married to it are probably divorced now."

"Even the ones that wrote it are divorced," adds Page, laughing wickedly.

True, but not from each other. Because at its heart, what this project is ultimately about has less to do with the Led Zeppelin legacy than with the pleasure Page and Plant have in working together.

"When we decided to get back together and see what would happen, Robert had called Martin Meissonnier in Paris, who made up some tape loops for us of North African drums," Page explains. "Which was pretty evocative stuff, really. It was good to be working with these sort of rhythms, which didn't involve a normal drummer as such, with bass drum, snare and hi-hats, and all this sort of thing.

"It was pretty instant, actually, as far as getting inspiration from these things, because that's exactly what they were -- inspirational."

Two of the songs inspired by those loops ended up in the MTV special and on the subsequent album, "No Quarter." But once started, Page and Plant weren't about to stop. "We went on from there to work with the rhythm section, Charlie Jones and Michael Lee, [who] had been with Robert for what, two years, isn't it? We wrote stuff there, but then we started to embark upon this course of action by bringing in Moroccan drummers and electric hurdy-gurdies, and sort of reinvestigating the old numbers."

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