The songs remain the same 27 years on
AS JIMMY Page's famous fingers crashed down on the strings, kicking off the London gig, the fans went as wild as they always did when Led Zeppelin played the city.
But the faces which gazed up in adulation were very different from those which had peppered the crowd the last time the band had taken to the stage in the capital.
Where there was once Playgirl Bebe Buell, there was model Kate Moss, her face clearly visible now smoking has been banned. The drug-addled fans had become clean-living suburban parents, holding aloft mobile phones in the place of lighters.
Thirty years had passed and Led Zeppelin had joined a growing stream of ageing and aged rock bands heaving themselves back on stage, slightly stooped by time but still able to belt out a ballad with the best of them.
They follow the likes of The Police, Van Halen and Genesis, as well as acts who have been in retirement for less time, like Rage Against The Machine, Take That and The Spice Girls.
And although Led Zep's show at the O2 on Monday night attracted a fair number of balding baby- boomers eager to revisit their hippy halcyon days, there were also more than a smattering of hip young things. There is no more indelible a mark of cool than having Miss Moss in your audience.
For many of the younger generations, the demand for bands who disbanded before they were born is prompted by a desire to hear the music which spawned the tracks of their time.
There are the literal, like the hip hop and dance acts which sample classic tracks, such as the case of P Diddy using Led Zep's Kashmir on Come With Me (during his incarnation as Puff Daddy). And there are the derivative - the indie bands such as The Libertines who emulate heroes like The Jam and The Smiths.
Allan Dumbreck, commercial music expert at the University of the West of Scotland (formerly Paisley University), said: "I think there's always the roots thing going on, where you think 'I like this band - what's behind them?'
"Like with the ska bands of the 80s, you might go back and dredge out the Jamaican music it originated from. And countless hip hop acts have used the riffs of John Bonham. Led Zeppelin are influential band among a range of genres and that's part of the interest.
"Records your dad might have that you are ignoring until this rap act you're into uses a riff from them and you think 'I have got to go and see them.'"
Mr Dumbreck said bands were reforming for a host of reasons. For Led Zep, it was "a humanitarian act", to commemorate the life of friend and former boss of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, and establish a foundation in his name.
But for others, it is simply that they - and more importantly the public - are realising how good they once were.
"There used to be an enormous amount of respect for bands who said they would never reform, as The Beatles did, but as time has gone on, the public has got more used to getting what they want," said Mr Dumbreck.
"The internet generation can go on to the web and find exactly what they want. I think [bands reforming] is maybe a continuation of that."
They may also have grown older and wiser, said former session musician Mr Dumbreck, and the wounds have healed.
But self-confessed cynic, John Williamson, research fellow and lecturer at Glasgow University, believes the key driver is money.
The income which can be generated by a live tour has shot up well above inflation over the last ten years, with cheaper air travel, lighter equipment and, of course, the lucrative sponsorship, endorsement and advertising opportunities. Tickets are also more expensive in relative terms.
But Mr Williamson, the manager of legendary Scots band Belle and Sebastian, admitted: "There is also a more benign reason as well, which I think is more nostalgic and based on an older rock audience that has stuck by these artists their entire lives and that is maybe not catered for in existing gigs and also has the money to spend large amounts on a ticket and travel and the like for going to a show like Led Zeppelin."
Such a fan base is apparent in the sales figures of glossy magazines like Mojo and Uncut which sell hundreds of thousands of copies by filling their pages with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Queen. For the first time there is a generation of pensioners who still want to get in the mosh pit.
Mr Williamson believes this hankering for bygone days is also felt by the bands, as well as the fans, particularly Scottish groups such as The Skids and Nazareth who have got back together in recent years.
Technology is also changing the economics and pushing groups out on the road rather than into the studio. Bands are making less money on their records because of the changing retail landscape of pop, in which tracks are bought in different ways - on CD, on a USB stick, online.
Supermarkets may be using music as a loss leader, to get customers in to spend on other groceries, but the overall effect is that fans expect to pay those prices for an album wherever they go.
"The record side is in decline because there is so much free music and peer to peer file sharing," said Mr Dumbreck. "That's perhaps a factor that's pushing people out on to the stage."
But the big concerts laid on by reformed rock legends do not mean fledgling acts will be forced out of the arena.
The live sector is booming, according to Mr Dumbreck and Mr Williamson, and the proliferation of music allows more and more acts to get their music heard. While there used to be a tiny number of acts making big money, there will now be more bands making moderate wages (in rock star terms).
Mr Williamson said: "Although it's a confusing time, it's an exciting time and the access to old and new music is probably greater than it's ever been."
BACK TO THE FUTURE, BUT IT DOESN'T ALWAYS WORK
THEY'VE loosened the cut of their skin-tight trousers, modified their dance moves to suit their advancing years and buried the hatchet - but some bands' attempts to reunite have been more successful than others.
Before Led Zeppelin's triumphant return on Monday, the come-back crown lay on the collective head of The Police.
After a cocaine-fuelled split, Sting went on to the phenomenally successful career that his bandmate Stewart Copeland said his ego demanded.
But they reproduced their reggae-punk sound 23 years later to rapturous reviews.
It is doubtful that the critics would have been so upbeat if they had attempted the venture without their frontmen - as some others learned to their detriment.
Queen without Freddie Mercury, The Jam without Paul Weller and INXS without Michael Hutchence were all doomed before the first drum beat. Other reunions have been more fleeting - but far more successful.
Pink Floyd fulfilled the dreams of many when they got onstage together for one night only - Live 8 in 2005.
It is not just the respectable rock bands who have been making a return - the processed pop of the early 90s has reared its coiffured head again even as Simon Cowell is working to manufacture their replacements. Following a frustrating decade of solo failures, the eminently likeable Take That are storming the charts, albeit with more crooning and less Robbie and breakdancing. Their female equivalent, The Spice Girls, have followed suit for Christmas, cunningly tying in the comeback with a lucrative advertising campaign for Tesco.
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