Who was here in 1969? asked Mick Jagger, referencing the Rolling Stones historic Hyde Park show, held just two days after original guitarist Brian Jones’ death, at which a crowd estimated at a quarter of a million people turned up to pay their respects. “Welcome back,” he said in response to those who stood with hands raised. “It’s nice to see you again.“

Back then, nobody had paid a penny to see the Stones; 44 years on, some tickets were changing prices for upwards of a thousand pounds. Inevitably, the times, they have a changed.

The bank manager long ago won the battle for the heart of the Stones – surveying the baffling number of hospitality packages and “tiers” of general admission at Hyde Park, one can’t help but feel sorry for the poor fan who just wanted a ticket for the gig. But all one’s scepticism disappears the minute the riff of Start Me Up explodes out of the speakers, an awful lot more sure-footed than it sounded on the TV from Glastonbury.

And while a sizeable section of today’s audience weren’t even born the last time Mick and co ambled through Midnight Rambler here, the fact that they’d turned out in their thousands to tread in their parents’ sandal-steps speaks volumes about the band’s enduring appeal. Things got off to a less than auspicious start. Keith Richards fluffed not one, but two of opener Start Me Up’s opening three chords – a riff one suspects, given the number of times he’s played it, would be harder for him to play wrong than right.

Fortunately they proved to be the only bum notes of a near-immaculate set that not just recreated the previous weekend’s Glastonbury crowd-pleasing histrionics, but arguably surpassed them. Richards looked more relaxed and far better dressed, trading licks and cigarette smoke with long-term sparring partner Ronnie Wood.

Drummer Charlie Watts was the epitome of insouciant cool, providing the rock-solid foundations from which the likes of It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It), Honky Tonk Women and an epic Paint It Black were majestically constructed.

The Stones may no longer be “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world” (is anyone?), but their muscle memory and catalogue mean they are still a fearsome force once they’re in full flow. Gimme Shelter has the unstoppable, lumbering force of a supertanker; Paint It Black, an eternal monument to the point in time when blues fans started dropping acid, still sounds like it was written by some sinister, alternate consciousness, then gifted to the band – the nihilism of the lyric may be cartoonish, but the attack of the music isn’t.

The presentation, too, is stunning. There are no fancy props on stage, but the band are enveloped on huge screens, which during Sympathy for the Devil portray the trees of Hyde Park in flames, while firepots belch orange flame and drape the front 30 or 40 yards of the crowd in smoke. It’s thrillingly effective, and only the delighted whoops of 65,000 or so prevent it feeling suitably demonic. And if Jagger’s call-outs to “everyone at the back” feel forced, given that thousands have paid a good bit extra for the privilege of standing nearer the front, then the explosive force of Midnight Rambler (with added Mick Taylor) or Jumpin’ Jack Flash forces one to swallow qualms. A beautiful You Can’t Always Get What You Want and the inevitable (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction finish the show, and it’s hard to believe, as Keith Richards grins through his fag smoke, that they won’t be back doing it all again soon.

John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin’s bassist and keyboard player, was quietly playing backgammon and half listening to a phone-in radio talk show on New York FM.

“I was in a club last night when someone asked me if I wanted to meet Jimmy Page,” the show’s host suddenly offered between calls. “You know, when I think about it, there’s no one I’d rather meet less than someone as disgusting as Jimmy Page.”

Jones bolted up from his game. “Let me just say that Led Slime can’t play their way out of a paper bag and if you plan on seeing them tomorrow night at the Garden, those goons are ripping you off. Now don’t start wasting my time defending Led Slime. If you’re thinking about calling up to do that, stick your head in the toilet and flush.”

Jones, normally a man of quiet reserve, strode furiously across the room. He snapped up a phone and dialed the station. After a short wait, the talk show host picked up the phone.

“What would you like to talk about?”

“Led Zeppelin,” Jones answered cooly in his clipped British accent. The line went dead. Victim of an eight-second delay button, the exchange was never given air time.

It was a familiar battle, as Jones saw it. Although Led Zeppelin has managed to sell more than a million units apiece on all five of its albums and is currently working a U.S. tour that is expected to be the largest grossing undertaking in rock history, the band has been continually kicked, shoved, pummeled and kneed in the groin by critics of all stripes. “I know it’s unnecessary to fight back,” Jones said. True enough: The Zep’s overwhelming popularity speaks for itself. “I just thought I’d defend myself one last time.”

The night after that aborted defense, in the first of three concerts at Madison Square Garden, Led Zeppelin brought a standing-room-only audience to its feet with one of the finest shows of its six-year career. On Page’s unexpected midset impulse, the band launched unrehearsed into a stunning 20-minute version of his tour de force, “Dazed and Confused.” The tension of uncertain success was an evident and electric element in Zeppelin’s performance that evening. “No question about it,” lead singer Robert Plant enthused before returning to the stage for a second encore of “Communication Breakdown,” “the tour has begun.”

It has been a long time since Zeppelin last rock & rolled. After 18 months spent laboring over their new double album, Physical Graffiti, the band has some warming up to do. “It’s unfortunate there’s got to be anybody there,” Plant said. “But we’ve got to feel our way. There’s a lot of energy here this tour. Much more than the last one.” The tour’s official opening night, January 18th at the Minneapolis Sports Center, went surprisingly well considering the circumstances. Only a week before, Jimmy Page broke the tip of his left ring finger when it was caught in a slamming train door. With only one rehearsal to perfect what Page calls his “three-and-a-half-finger technique,” the classic Zeppelin live pieces, “Dazed and Confused” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” were indefinitely retired. Codeine tablets and Jack Daniel’s deadened the pain enough for Page to struggle through the band’s demanding three-hour set.

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Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager and president of Swan Song, the group’s record company, found those first few dates strange: “A Led Zeppelin concert without ‘Dazed and Confused’ is something I’ll have to get used to. In a lot of ways that number is the band at its very best. There’s one point in the song where Pagey can take off and do whatever he wants to. There is always the uncertainty of whether it will be five or 35 minutes long.”

the_black_keys-valley_viewOver 10 years and seven albums, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have turned their basement blues project into one of America’s mightiest bands. Weaned on Stax 45s and Wu-Tang loops, the Black Keys smeared the lines between blues, rock, R&B and soul, with Auerbach’s horny Howlin Wolf yowl bouncing off garage-y slashing and nasty body-rocking grooves.

Like that other guitar and drums duo from the Rust Belt, the Akron, Ohio, guys brought raw, riffed-out power back to pop’s lexicon. On 2010’s Brothers, they found a perfect balance between juke-joint formalism and modern bangzoom. The result was a few Grammys and so many TV ad placements, The Colbert Report did a sketch about it. El Camino is the Keys’ grandest pop gesture yet, augmenting dark-hearted fuzz blasts with sleekly sexy choruses and Seventies-glam flair. It’s an attempt at staying true to the spirit of that piece-of-shit minivan on the album cover – similar to their first touring vehicle – while reimagining it as a pimpmobile. This is the Black Keys’ third meeting – following 2008’s Attack & Release and one track on Brothers – with Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton. Here, the band essentially becomes a trio, with Burton as co-producer/co-writer throughout. His brilliance, as the planet heard on Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, is blowing details of classic pop up to Jumbotron scale. Listen to the keyboard part that kicks in the door of El Camino’s “Gold on the Ceiling”: a serrated organ growl backed up with a SWAT team of hand claps. It’s Sixties bubblegum garage pop writ large, with T. Rex swagger and a guitar freakout that perfectly mirrors the lyrics, a paranoid rant that makes you shiver while you shimmy.

The single “Lonely Boy” works the same way, launched on a gnarly, looped guitar riff whose last note slides down like a turntable that someone keeps stopping. Then a sugar-crusted keyboard comes in, along with what sounds like a boy-girl chorus, changing the swampy chug into a seductive singalong.

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