Ultimate Interviews

Ultimate Interviews

Sunday, September 15, 2013

CODA - An Ultimate Review

It may have been Friday the 13th, but good luck was on my side. I was headed to Burlington to check out 'Coda-The Raw Led Zeppelin Experience'. I had recently had the pleasure of interviewing them for our blog. What great timing it was to check out a show as a follow up to that interview. I touched base with the guys a short time before, to let them know that I'd be heading to their show. I didn't allow myself to have any expectations on how the show could be. I was going with an unbiased perspective and an open mind, with the added bonus of meeting the guys. I didn't want to allow the interview to be influential to my honest opinion of their show. 

Once my guests and I got there, I gave my name at the door, (at the request of the band), we made our way to a table situated close to the dance floor with a perfect view of the stage. The guys were already on stage, setting up their equipment. I must admit I was a bit nervous to approach them.

A few moments later, I saw drummer Kelly, begin to cross the dance floor in our direction. I was introduced to him, and was greeted with a friendly smile, shake of the hand and a hug. Robert (Vocals) then made his way down from the stage and welcomed me in a similar manner. I met Paul (Bass) soon after, but would have to wait till their first break till I got to meet Rick (Guitar). The guys were so nice, down to earth and easy to talk to. As they made their way back up to start soundcheck, I had a seat and was looking forward to the show to begin. 

I took a page out of our dear friend Bluebird's book, when it comes to reviewing shows. I remembered to bring a small notebook, so that I could write down key moments, songs and anything else that would pop into my mind while watching the show.

With final preparations and soundcheck done..the show kicked off with one of Zep's classic hits. Right from the opening riff of 'Immigrant Song', they had me on the edge of my seat. Could this Robert let loose the familiar Plant wail? Very simple answer to that question..Oh Hell Yea! The sound, the mannerisms, the personalities came shining through and I had this smile on my face that just would not go away. If there were any doubts that CODA might not deliver that Raw Led Zeppelin Experience, it vanished quickly thanks to the tight vocals, thundering drums, strong bass and ear piercing guitar riffs.
Before I knew it, we left the land of the ice and snow and Robert was telling us the news that Annie was back in town. To say these guys were anything but professional would be a lie. Patiently waiting to see Rick Mercer tackle Heartbreaker's mid-song solo, a slight mishap occurred. While trying to switch his guitar, due to a broken string, he shared a smile with Robert, and then launched into a full blown attack that would have made Mr. Page proud. A broken string wasn't going to keep these guys from doing what they do best.

A handful of songs into their first set, it was crystal clear that they weren't favouring the studio versions over the live versions or vice versa. What was evident that these versions of the songs, had a perfect mix, a balance, harmony and they made it work with great precision. Before launching into their next song, Robert took a moment to address the audience and even did a shout out to yours truly and mentioned the Led Zeppelin Ultimate Fan Page. I was surprised and honoured by this kind gesture. 

With that being said, a simple, yet familiar beat started to take shape. We were taken back to Spring of 1969, at a little Danish studio. Robert, similar to what Robert did 44 years previously, began introducing CODA.   "How many more times....treat me the way that you wanna do"...Kelly and Paul held the rhythm down while Robert and Rick interacted in true Page-Plant fashion. Having been born in the early '70s I was not fortunate to witness the true magic that was, is, Led Zeppelin. Beginning with 'How Many More Times' and finishing with 'Communication Breakdown', Coda transported me to a time that I was not previously able to be part of until this night.

From the Lord of the Rings influenced 'Ramble On', to the appreciation of the audience, including Bonzo's famous "count in" of 'The Ocean', the first set came to a close with the hypnotic riffs of 'Kashmir'. 

Here we saw Paul put down the bass and man his station behind the keyboards. We all became travelers of time and space and CODA was well on the way of showing us what all would be revealed.

The first set came to a close and I was already struggling for what words to describe what I had just witnessed. Robert then came and sat with us and was so nice to sign the photo of the band that I brought. Paul then came over, signed the photo as well, we chatted for a bit and then I met Rick.
It was such an honour to meet these guys, talk to them, and it was incredibly generous of them to spend time at our table and autographing the photo.

Before long, the guys made their way back up to the stage. Kelly took his seat behind the Bonham inspired drum setup, adorning a very familiar looking bowler hat and proudly assumed the role of 'The Beast' himself. It wasn't a long time since they rock and rolled, but it did make for a great way to kick off the second set. In true 'The Song Remains the Same' fashion, 'Rock and Roll' flawlessly flowed into 'Celebration Day'. I could close my eyes and see that exact part of the film, how the songs effortlessly ran into each other. 
One more classic, 'Black Dog' would be performed, once again with great precision and integrity, doing justice to the songs and paying tribute to the band who made the songs famous. It was that moment they would slow it down a bit and we were introduced to the 'softer, bluesy' side of CODA.

Paul then donned this incredible looking double-neck bass. Who said only the guitarist can have fun with double-necks. :)) 'Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You' and 'I Can't Quit You Baby' showcased Robert's vocal strength and exceptional pitch during both songs.

During the latter, I noticed how spot on Rick's mannerisms were and how he possessed certain Page-like qualities. If not for the missing dragonsuit, and a couple decades gone, it could well have been Jimmy on that stage melting the faces off everyone in the audience during the solo in 'I Can't Quit You Baby'. Rick definitely can prove to any non-believers that he has what it takes to play these legendary songs. It is well documented the way Robert and Jimmy feed off each other while on stage, and I witnessed that same camaraderie between Rick and Robert.  Towards the end of the song, it was wonderful to see the interaction between the two of them. I had made a special note of that in my notebook as I really wanted to comment about it. I think it shows that not only are all these guys bandmates, but true friends and can have fun while doing their 'job'.

To increase the tempo..they started 'Misty Mountain Hop'. A staple at Led Zeppelin concerts after debuting at a 1971 show. It would be performed regularly during the 72-73 tour, and often would link into 'Since I've Been Loving You'. For those who know me personally, understand the importance of "SIBLY" to me. It's one of those songs, to me, that is sacred and if you're not Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones & John Bonham, then you have no right playing it. I was a bit reserved when I heard the first few notes. I was thinking to myself, "your song, ok deep breath." Within 60 seconds of Rick's intro solo I was hooked. I watched in awe, how these four individuals meshed and delivered an incredible version of what I think is a significant song in Led Zeppelin's repertoire. It definitely impressed this toughest critic. I put down the pen, grabbed my phone and started to record just as Rick was launching into his solo. I sat there mesmerized, impressed and honoured to be seeing this play out. Keeping a tight rhythm going, both Paul and Kelly blended perfectly and enhanced both the guitar and vocals. They looked so natural and comfortable on the stage and it came forth through their playing.  As it approached the end of the solo, were we going to get that primal scream ala Robert Plant from The Song Remains The Same?

Just then Kelly rose from his seat, grabbed the cymbals, it fell quiet and Robert let loose with full power and slight echo..."Said I, been crying...". Really folks, it couldn't get any better, or so I thought. I had no idea what was laying in wait ahead. Keyboards, drums, guitar, vocals all became one and the song was taken to a whole different level. When I mentioned before that it couldn't get any better, just over a minute later, Robert effortlessly let out a scream that stopped everyone in their tracks. He really does make it look so easy up on that stage, although he may have something different to say about that.
As the song neared its end, one more scream for good measure and Kelly showing the drums who was boss, it was over. With that done, they had finished their second set, put down the equipment and after awhile made their way towards our table. All I could do was say over and over how amazing it was. Being asked if I was enjoying it was an understatement. I was loving it, it was everything and more than what I could have asked for or expected. When Rick approached the table, I greeted him with "I'm not worthy" gestures in true Wayne's World fashion, I was playfully saying how they were lucky they did such an incredible job on the song that meant everything to me and is #1 on my Zep song list. I officially gave them the "Ultimate Seal of Approval". They were so humble and down to earth guys and I really hope they knew (or know) how much I was enjoying the night and it was totally MY HONOUR to be there.

With the last short break out of the way, CODA returned to the stage to finish what they were there to do. Kicking off the set with 'The Wanton Song'. Then Robert picking up the harmonica for one of the catchiest intros: 'Bring it on Home'. The 1970 Royal Albert Hall performance by Zep flashed into my mind. CODA is such a cohesive unit on stage, playing off each other, slight glimpses at each other, they know when to stop, start, stop. You can tell that this band is a well oiled machine and capable of going far. Playing songs that represented each Zeppelin album, 'In Through the Out Door' was next to be honoured by having 'Hot Dog' played. This got people up on the dance floor. With such ease the boys were able to move from album to album and pick songs from each one to play. Giving Led Zeppelin III its turn, 'Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp', complete with Robert telling the story about Plant having a dog named Strider entertained the crowd.

After the opening chords of 'Moby Dick', Paul, Robert and Rick exited the stage to allow their percussionist, Kelly Mauricette, to shine in the spotlight.
John has always been such a revered member of Zeppelin since his death in 1980. He has been an inspiration and hero to many. 
With that being said, Kelly delivered a version of 'Moby Dick' that would have made Bonzo reach down from Heaven and pat him on the back if he could. Just when you thought his arms were going to fall off, he put down the sticks and using his hands created such incredible sounds from the kettle drum, cymbals and gong, in true Bonham style. I happened to glance around the bar and saw everyone standing there starstruck by what this man was doing on the drumset. I observed Kelly's bandmates sitting off to each side, watching their drummer up there making not only them proud, but respectfully honouring both John Bonham and Led Zeppelin's music. 

They rejoined their friend on stage, finished up the song, allowed Kelly to have a short break, and then Rick picked up the beautiful doubleneck guitar. 

Without any delay, the well known intro of 'Stairway To Heaven' began to fill the room. Rick and Paul backed Robert, until Kelly, powerfully, but not in a noisy way, entered to help progress the song to its next plateau. Everything was just beautiful. One instrument complimented the other; keyboards, guitar, drums, vocals. I know I may be repeating myself, and while they are individually talented, they really are magical as a group. 'Stairway' ended on a soft note, like it began. The crowd delivered signs of appreciation, whistling, clapping and cheering.

Robert thanked everyone again for coming out and that they were going to do one more song. Paul stepped out from behind the keyboards for the last time that evening, picked up his bass, then Rick began that oh too familiar riff. Before you knew it, they were full force into 'Whole Lotta Love'. While standing in front and off to the side of the stage, I was approached by a couple who had been there all night. They told me how much they loved these guys and came out every time they were there playing. I told them it was my first time seeing them, but in no way the last. I was asked if I enjoyed the show, in which I answered, I had truly loved it. They had so many nice things to say about the band and that if I could ever see them again, make sure that I grab that opportunity.

I watched the rest of the song from that exact spot, taping the final song of the night, and chuckled when Robert pointed to the camera and asked if I had 'seen the bridge'. I wouldn't say I saw a bridge, but I sure witnessed something that will be embedded in me for a very long time.

When it was all said and done, I went back to our table, and was just so excited. I had asked Rick earlier on in the night, if when they were done, I could hold the doubleneck. He was very accommodating and said sure thing. So I started walking towards the stage, and before I could walk up the stairs, I was approached by Robert who asked if I had enjoyed the show. I told him it was so fantastic, great, awesome, I was at a loss for adjectives by this point. He was so happy that I enjoyed it and thanked me for coming out. I asked if I could possibly get a group shot before I had to make my way back home. He said of course. I then went up to the stage, where Rick was holding his beloved doubleneck out for me. I was so nervous to hold it and asked if he wanted me to sign a paper first, that I wasn't going to drop it. He proceeded to help me strap that baby on. I could not believe how heavy it was.  We had some good laughs and it was so exciting. I recall saying it would be the closest I would ever get to Jimmy Page. That guitar truly is a piece of art. I can so understand why he cherishes it so much. After some pics with it, I was helped removing it, and then lifted his '79 Les Paul. Here I thought the doubleneck was heavy, that guitar was just crazy. But both were such beautiful pieces of equipment. 

I went back to our table, where Kelly was sitting with friends at the table behind ours. The other guys were talking to people, so we waited a bit, till they were all available for a pic. I began to tell Kelly how awesome the show was. At this point, we headed down towards the front of the stage. Robert did a great job getting all the guys to gather around and we got some group shots. Kelly then gave me a pair of drum sticks that looked like they were an animal's chewtoy. 

He graciously signed them for me and Rick gave me a guitar pic. We stood around talking for a bit, and I laughed when Robert said he saw me writing notes during the night. After hugs from everyone and final thank-yous, I was on my way back home. 

Overall the whole experience was just amazing, in every shape and form. The warm greetings from the guys when we first got there, how they were so attentive towards me throughout the whole evening, right down to all the little bonuses that made for such an incredible night that I will not forget. While they were thanking me for being there, I was thanking them for having me there and treating me like a VIP all night.  I was eager to get home and start writing up the review, going through all the pictures and just reliving the night in my mind.

Zep's music is so relevant today, in the 21st Century, thanks to guys like Robert, Paul, Rick and Kelly. With tribute bands like this, the legacy of Zeppelin is kept alive for all people, who may never have been around to witness Zep in their prime. Thanks to CODA, they delivered the Raw Led Zeppelin Experience they promised they will do at every show.

My sincerest thanks to Mr. Miniaci, Mr. Mathur, Mr. Mercer and Mr. Mauricette. You were all so welcoming, friendly and wonderful to meet and hang out with. Thanks for a wonderful night, all the bonuses and for being such an amazing group of guys. I hope to check out future shows and have a great relationship between LZUFP and CODA.

It was an amazing experience, no scratch that, it was an ULTIMATE Experience. No costumes, no gimmicks, just straight up rock and roll, a raw Zeppelin experience. I am so proud of these Canadian guys who play with such passion, integrity, love and respect of the music, all while understanding what the music means to their fans.
I proudly give CODA-The Raw Led Zeppelin Experience live at Boston Manor in Burlington, Ontario, September 13, 2013, not only the 'Ultimate Seal of Approval', but....

5 Violin Bows out of 5

Keep up to date with Coda, including tour dates, photos and more:

Coda - The Raw Led Zeppelin Experience Official Website
Coda - The Raw Led Zeppelin Experience Official Facebook
Coda - The Raw Led Zeppelin Experience Official Twitter

Read the exclusive interview with CODA:
CODA - Ultimate Interview

(all concert photos of Coda, autographed photo, drumsticks photo, property of LedZepUFP)

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