Prohibited from touring for nearly two years due to Robert Plant’s physical rehabilitation and recovery, which led to the release of both Presence and The Song Remains the Same in 1976, Led Zeppelin embarked upon what at the time stood as the largest (in terms of financial success and attendance) tour ever undertaken in April of 1977. Segmented into three legs, the tour comprised 51 dates with 1.3 million attendees and ticket sales averaging a rate of 72,000 per day. Following a one-month postponement attributed to Plant contracting laryngitis, during which the band reportedly did not rehearse as all of the instruments had been shipped ahead in accordance with the original schedule, the four men reconvened officially at Dallas Memorial Stadium on April 1 for the most significant undertaking in the group’s history.
More so even than the “American Return” in 1975 that saw the band weather illness and injury after an eighteen month absence from touring, the 1977 North American Tour heralded a reassertion of the band’s dominance after considerable developments in popular music and the ascension of rock acts such as Aerosmith, Queen, Heart, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Swan Song signee Bad Company to stardom. Thoroughly documented and visually immortalized (due in no small part to Page’s white “poppy” suit), the tour remains one of the better-represented chapters in Led Zeppelin’s history thanks to the enormity of the concerts. The vast majority of shows1, accordingly, are available on unofficial formats and occasionally augmented by amateur footage. However, offhand remarks and write-ups from those unfamiliar with any shows considered even mediocre in quality have marred the tour’s reputation2 to such an extent that it is often cast aside by rock critics or non-Led Zeppelin fans. Not aided by the generally dry, dull soundboard recordings3 that pale in comparison to the official release-caliber 1975 tapes or the cursory approach that overlooks worthy shows4, the tour seems to incur most of the denigration levelled at the band with little cause. Though this entry is by no means meant to be historically comprehensive or inclined to devote full evaluations to each show (as done graciously in Luis Rey’s Led Zeppelin Live: An Illustrated Exploration of Underground Tapes print releases and The Year of Led Zeppelin), it presents an overview of the tour musically, and the shows discussed should convince anyone courting the idea of objectivity or even intrigue of Led Zeppelin’s unscathed force.
Out of necessity, the set list sees its most dramatic revision since the 1973 North American Tour. The shows open with the technically-demanding gallop of “The Song Remains the Same”, which, rather than receding into “The Rain Song”, drops into “The Rover” for nearly a minute before settling on “Sick Again”. “Dazed and Confused” has been dropped, not to be seen again until the 2007 reunion at the O2 Arena, though Page retains the bowed guitar segment as the culmination of his effects solo spot, with the “Mars, the Bringer of War” passage serving as a segue into “Achilles Last Stand”. He also employs the theremin (making up for the drastically truncated, encore-reserved “Whole Lotta Love” now teased as an introduction to “Rock and Roll”) and the Eventide Harmonizer, yet another electronic innovation. “No Quarter” thus fills the void for collective improvisation and, though keyboard-oriented and obviously lacking the popular history of the discarded pieces, fills in ably as both a showcase for John Paul Jones and an artistic vehicle for the three-man instrumental machine.
Most glaring, however, is the reintegration of the acoustic set (absent, outside of Earl’s Court, since 1972), which allows a seated reprieve for Plant and coaxes spirited contributions from all involved on “The Battle of Evermore”, “Going to California”, and “Black Country Woman/Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”; some of Page’s most beautifully constructed solos from the tour can be found in these performances of “Stomp”. To his dismay, John Paul Jones receives the daunting obligation of fulfilling Sandy Denny’s role on “Evermore” but orients to the vocal demands over time. While not the musician’s favorite moment of the concerts, it does hark to Jones’ unprecedented visibility during the 1977 shows, which perhaps brings to fruition the collaborative, group aesthetic more readily than the multiple solo spots would suggest. Broadly, the acoustic set lends some necessary “light” to what is otherwise the most consistently heavy, unrelenting standard setlist in the band’s career. On less substantial but equally pleasant notes, the main riff of “Out on the Tiles” returns as the introduction to Bonham’s drum solo (rechristened “Over the Top”), while the never-before-attempted “Ten Years Gone” induces Page to bring out the brown Telecaster5 affixed for twang purposes with a B-Bender (a pulley-based device attached to the guitar strap that allows the user to bend the B-string up a full tone by exerting pressure on the guitar’s body).
APRIL — Fully bearing out the group’s almost two-year absence from the stage, the first leg of the tour opens (on tape) with the rather bleak Oklahoma City run-through but improves with each date before reaching the inarguable heights of Cleveland (4/28) and Pontiac (4/30). As expected, the band takes several performances to warm completely to the very involving “Ten Years Gone” (ostensibly filling the poignant-themed spot of “The Rain Song”) and “Achilles Last Stand”, while the performances on the whole remain a bit loose even after the Chicago shows. Plant, though traumatized into a more cautious approach to wailing and still suffering leg pain, requires no motivation to embarrass his afflicted 1975 outings and has not been so stable since 1972. The band, meanwhile, provides enthralling versions of “The Battle of Evermore” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” from the outset; Plant shines on both, flaunting his reclaimed sustain and power. Page progresses considerably throughout April as he acclimates to the set list and the demands of performing three-hour shows four or five nights a week while refusing to consume solids and weighing-in at well below advisable human standards. His enthusiasm for electronic and discordant tones gradually settles in as a hallmark of his sound, directing his ambitions toward an attempt to translate his recent studio experimentation to the live setting. Naturally, the opening stretch does feature a performance of both artistic and photographic accomplishment in the last night at Chicago (4/10). Clad in “Stormtrooper” garb, Page atones for the stomach cramps that had necessitated a suspension6 of the previous night’s effort after only “Ten Years Gone”, and the group treats the crowd to a phenomenal display of might. Regrettably consigned to a rough, occasionally- distorted tape, the show still entertains with a brutal first act and enthusiastic playing from everyone. Incidentally, Page’s playing on April 9 is actually quite impressive even when without the agony element.
Following the seldom-discussed but passable pair of Cincinnati shows, the group settles into a more comfortable approach to the new material and begins to reclaim some of its improvisatory fervor. The hideously-taped 4/23 Atlanta show represents the strongest overall effort, with riveting versions of the epics, cohesion, and consistency making it a standout in Led Zeppelin’s touring history. Even this is matched (if not eclipsed) in quick succession by the perennial fan favorite second Cleveland show and the Pontiac Silverdome summit, which tends to garner more attention for its elusive professionally-shot footage than its exhibition of musical supremacy. Plant pushes himself beyond any expectation in the latter show–his vocal command is remarkable throughout (see “The Battle of Evermore”). He looses two eviscerating screams during “Kashmir”, electronically-harmonized sirens over “Trampled Under Foot”, and a painfully-protracted final yell on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” that outdoes even his spectacular work on the 4/27 rendition. For all that it may be Page, however, who provides the definitive performance on the night, surpassing all of his previous efforts on the tour and pulling out evocative phrases on each number. His playing on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You”, “No Quarter”, “Achilles Last Stand”, and “Stairway to Heaven” stands among his best on the tour, while he belies any health issues with almost studio-worthy clarity. In fact, the night’s “Achilles Last Stand” probably ranks as the song’s greatest live airing, with every aspect coalescing. Deservedly, the group coasts off into vacation in the aftermath, with the tour resuming on May 18 in Birmingham, Alabama for another oft-unheralded, all-time great.
MAY — The wanting acclaim for the Birmingham show, which features one of Plant’s most impressive performances since 1973 and a tremendous group effort, necessarily makes it the most underrated of the tour. Of only fair audio quality, the recording cannot compare to the Forum tapes, but it is certainly listenable without disturbance. Similar qualms detract from the standing of the superb 4/10 Chicago, Atlanta, Pontiac, 6/8 New York, and 6/22 L.A. shows, but the lack of notoriety proves particularly unjust in this instance. Page delivers scintillating, possibly year-best contributions to “In My Time of Dying”, a smoldering “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You“, and “Stairway to Heaven“, while “No Quarter”, “Kashmir”, and “Rock and Roll” come across with even more vigor than usual. “Since” and “No Quarter” seem to excite Plant on this evening and elicit some of his finest work on the tour; that “No Quarter”, with only two verses, astounds should suggest uniqueness, and Plant’s final, excoriating scream alone should have cemented the show’s reputation. May 18 also marks the unveiling of John Paul Jones’ triple-neck acoustic guitar (giving access to six-string and twelve-string guitar and mandolin) affectionately dubbed “turkey” by Plant.
Settling in at Landover‘s Capitol Centre for the second residency of the tour, the group delivers four shows, each of which has been released on soundboard format in recent years. Unusually uneven, especially given the Birmingham triumph only a week earlier, the first three shows vary severely in quality from song to song and lack distinction as performances (save the welcome addition of “Dancing Days” to the second night’s acoustic set). The fourth night (see “Notes”), alternatively, rivals the Atlanta, Cleveland (4/28), and Pontiac concerts for supremacy this far into the tour, sporting benchmark interpretations of “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, “No Quarter”, “Achilles Last Stand”, and “Stairway to Heaven” as well as great takes on “In My Time of Dying” and “Ten Years Gone” and a customarily-riotous “Rock and Roll” extended for the sole purpose of allowing Plant to break himself. Fresh off the the Maryland finale and the “Rain or Shine” debacle in Tampa on June 3, the group actually finds itself in its best form yet heading to its favorite East Coast venue and the first “mythical” stretch of 1977.
JUNE — Often neglected in favor of its better-preserved Los Angeles counterpart, the six-night run at Madison Square Garden (June 7,8,10,11,13, and 14) more than compensates for the erratic Chicago and Landover stints with absolute highlights of the band’s touring career. The first night, released on soundboard, admittedly does not warrant inclusion in the company of the other five shows, fluctuating sharply in quality despite the band’s enthusiasm and the phenomenal “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, “Ten Years Gone“, “No Quarter”, and “Going to California”. The following night swiftly dispels any memory of this, supplying a complete event with an insatiable opening run, a typically arresting “No Quarter”, one of the strongest “Achilles Last Stand” takes of the tour and, in the words of Luis Rey, an appropriately “festive” “Rock and Roll”. Coupled with performances from Page and Plant to rival Pontiac and Birmingham, the second New York show can hold its own alongside any in the band’s history. The third night, granted the warmest recording of the bunch, outdoes it still and matches any show from the L.A. series for excellence individually and collectively and emotional depth. By this juncture, even the most inattentive listener can discern Page has worked his way into a stride that will persist for the rest of the leg, as he has reconciled his more abrasive inclinations with fluid, confident playing. A startling “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You” and “No Quarter” likely represent pinnacles of the tour thus far, and “Kashmir“, more so than in any other concert between 1975 and 2007, comes across as truly “majestic”. Alongside the equally-distinguished “Ten Years Gone” and “Stairway to Heaven”, the June 10 acoustic set delivers on the promise of each previous performance as a faithful display of the band’s dynamics and discipline. Distinctions also arise in the first 1977 performances of “Heartbreaker” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” (both absent since May 25, 1975), which earn impassioned work from Plant and maniacal yet clean runs from Page, whose playing throughout the show perhaps outdoes that of Pontiac for flawlessness. Plant, similarly, exceeds himself with absolute control and stunning clarity in his strongest overall showing since April 30 (or maybe even 1972). The band is as tight and heavy as ever in this show, blazing through each number without ever letting up.
Preserved partially on soundboard (“Ten Years Gone”, almost all of “No Quarter”, and “The Battle of Evermore”) and film (one of the longest amateur documents from the tour, at over half an hour), the fourth night has managed significantly more fans than its predecessor. With many singling out “No Quarter” as a harbinger of the Los Angeles versions often cited as the song’s zenith, the show makes almost every best-of list. Though thoroughly entertaining and capped by a great “Stairway to Heaven” and another winning “Heartbreaker”, the show is less technically pristine than the previous night’s, and Plant takes several songs to come into his element. The fifth show, by far the most popular, does in fact deliver on its reputation, excelling musically and giving off the “feel” (present on the second and third nights as well) that accompanies the group’s fabled moments. Another undeniable “No Quarter”, in which Page puts on a clinic, the brutal “Kashmir” and “Achilles Last Stand”, and the surprise encore of “Black Dog” (one of two recorded from the tour) compensate for Bonham’s early entrance to “Stairway to Heaven” and Plant’s attempt to match the recorded vocals on “Over the Hills and Far Away” rather than the lower approach he had employed since late-1972. Though well-intentioned and quite impressive in the feat, Plant neglects to revert to the original melody, instead forcing the alternate, concert melody higher and, in doing so, rendering one of his strangest performances with Led Zeppelin; this, however, does nothing to diminish the scathing effect of Page’s solo. Not content to rest on the successes of the previous four nights, the men push themselves throughout the sixth and final performance (supplemented by almost twenty minutes of footage). Offering up another daring exhibition, the band shows remarkable devotion to improvisational development and the cumulative benefits of touring. “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You” closes out perhaps the song’s finest stretch as a live number–all six Garden interpretations astound emotionally and technically–with proper tumult, and Page turns in another wonderful “White Summer/Black Mountainside”. “The Song Remains the Same” and “Sick Again” deliver as staggering an opening as any show has ever had, while “No Quarter” and “Kashmir” somehow continue to impress and surprise night after night. With the resolving blowout of “Rock and Roll“, the group completes its undisputed, seven-year domination of the world’s greatest arena and departs for the West Coast.
June 19 marks Led Zeppelin’s first appearance out west since March 27, 1975 with one of the more unusual entries in the group’s touring career. Best-known for Bonham’s uncharacteristically erratic and generally sluggish play and John Paul Jones’ back injury (dutifully lamented by Plant), the show nevertheless does not upset the groove established in New York and, buttressed by a terrific, full recording, suggests that Plant and Page gave no thought to conserving strength for the impending L.A. run. Page retains all of his creativity here, building on the breakthroughs in New York, and Plant just continues to push himself, covering admirably for the addled Bonham. The high-spirited inclusion of Plant favorite “Mystery Train” during the acoustic set, featuring the singer in flawless, warm voice, does a nice job of elevating the performance as well.
Unscathed by the San Diego episode, Led Zeppelin sojourns toward yet another home away from home–the Los Angeles Forum–for six nights of lunacy in late June. Invariably praised as the culmination of the 1977 North American Tour (if not Led Zeppelin’s entire live career), the L.A. dates epitomize the group’s technical and artistic reformation and mark the most consistently spectacular events of 1977. Though varying slightly in quality and cohesiveness due (as always) in part to technical conditions, the stay lacks a weak entry and, graced in some instances by the legendary Mike Millard’s recording acumen, supplies listenable, entertaining odysseys. Fittingly, the run commences with arguably the finest single document of Led Zeppelin in concert. Immortalized under the title of Listen to This Eddie, the June 21 opener merits its acclaim. A fully engaging, ardent effort, the show delivers contender after contender for the “best performance” of each respective song. “Over the Hills and Far Away”, “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You”, “No Quarter”, “Kashmir”, “Achilles Last Stand”, “Stairway to Heaven”, and even “Rock and Roll” bear distinction. Penitent apparently for his difficulties in San Diego, Bonham gives arguably his scariest performance committed to tape; his contributions propel the songs almost distractingly so (see “The Song Remains the Same”), while the tape at times almost seems to have been tampered with due to Bonham’s ridiculous speed, power, and range. Gifted the fourth and last shot at “Heartbreaker” on the year, possibly by request7, the Los Angeles debut transcends any expectation. Bookended by inestimably famous gigs, the June 22 show (discussed further in “Notes”) wants in recognition but not in quality and threatens to outshine the previous night in terms of aggression and emotional upheaval. Page’s playing is tighter than in the previous two shows but just as daring, and Bonham, meanwhile, has yet to let up and arguably matches the previous night’s showing.
The third night, afforded the same adoration as the Eddie show, has passed perhaps further into lore under the title of For Badgeholders Only. Another weighty undertaking in its own right, the performance sees the unprovoked guest appearance of Keith Moon during “Over the Top” and the encore. With an unimpeachable opening stretch–“Over the Hills and Far Away”, “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You“, and “Ten Years Gone” are nearly too perfect, while “No Quarter” regularly receives “best ever” honors–and particularly accomplished playing, the show nonetheless inspires favor more for its sound quality and historical import than consistency. A solid but unremarkable acoustic set provides the first indication of mere excellence, while communication and equipment failures mar “Kashmir” and “Trampled Under Foot”, respectively. The standout “Achilles Last Stand” livens things up quite a bit before a tender “Stairway to Heaven” closes things out perfectly. Most conspicuous however is the encore, which provides one of the least musically interesting renditions of “Rock and Roll” on record as Plant and Page were ostensibly (and understandably) more concerned with monitoring Moon’s whereabouts and attempts at involvement than pushing themselves.
As the fourth night commences, any doubt as to the band’s ability to sustain its pace quickly disappears. Blazing through the opening numbers, the group pulls off an implacable “In My Time of Dying” (treated to a stab at Little Richard’s “Rip It Up”) for the song’s final appearance until 2007. An extended “Trampled Under Foot”–the most adventurous of the year for Page and a precursor to the expansive 1980 versions–also distinguishes the show from the other masterful displays of the week. It is the only known performance of “Communication Breakdown” on the year that tends to steal attention, finishing the show with no semblance of rust or lack of ideas. Page flaunts the fruits of his winning streak, while Plant employs his harmonizing vocal effect nicely during the funk interlude (featuring the”It’s Your Thing” rhythm this time). Technical clarity abounds in the following performance as Page and the rhythm section turn in impeccable work and Plant does not falter for a second. Technically and creatively, the instrumentation here matches that of any of the 1971-75 marathon shows. “That’s All Right” finds its only appearance in 1977 as the (now obligatory) exceptional moment from the acoustic set, and each song layers on the intensity. Just minutes later Page turns in a terrifically-executed, 1970-worthy “White Summer/Black Mountainside” and sends the band into yet another colossal “Kashmir. By now, the “Achilles Last Stand”/”Stairway to Heaven” conclusion would seem to have met its potential as a climax, and this show bears that out in full. Unrivalled, it could reasonably be claimed, in rock history as a set-closer, this pairing sees the group’s two greatest epics receive proper treatment night after night without ever dulling their impact. Jerry Lee Lewis’ “It’ll Be Me” earns a second, much cleaner airing as an encore (Mick Ralphs of Bad Company joined the band for it in Fort Worth on May 22) that exceeds even L.A. standards, with Page mustering a well structured, terse solo and Plant running the vocal spectrum with smooth sustain. This rarity adds yet another point of pride to what is, overall, the “most perfect” L.A. concert and one that ranks alongside any other show between 1968 and 1980. The last night at the Forum, aptly the final Led Zeppelin performance to clock-in at over three-and-a-half hours, overcomes any noticeable effects of consecutive marathons to thrillingly close out the group’s relationship with Los Angeles. Justly, the acoustic set nearly puts the rest of the proceedings to shame. A quick run at Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” marks a legitimate surprise, only to be surpassed as Page’s “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” solo segues into a lilting version of “Dancing Days” in which Plant sounds sufficiently boisterous and full-voiced to suggest he could have easily hit the high notes attempted back when the song regularly figured in the set list (as found on the 1972 electric rendition from How the West Was Won). A summation of the band’s triumphant return to the live setting, the final Los Angeles concert braves well-earned weariness to close out the second leg of the 1977 tour and one of the more storied chapters in rock history.
JULY — After a three week holiday, the group resumes touring at Seattle’s Kingdome (inaugurated by Paul McCartney and Wings in a 1976 show that would later appear, excerpted, in the Rockshow concert film) on July 17 for a stirring exercise in inconsistency (see “Notes”). Dogged by Page’s intermittently detrimental “sleeping sickness” and Plant’s truly afflicted, cracking voice, the Kingdome performance edges on calamity on several occasions. Nevertheless, as is precedent even for Led Zeppelin’s least accomplished outings, the show generally entertains and even manages to spawn an undying contender for the best rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” on record. Page’s exquisitely paced, rending phrases vindicate the concept of “improvisational composition” and nearly compensate for any earlier lapses. This would not be the case three nights later. The ensuing show, imposed upon the unsuspecting audience at Arizona State University, represents the nadir for Plant and Page and (despite only being partially taped) unfortunately accounts for most of the derision levied upon the tour. Plant’s voice collapses completely here despite his comeback in the final moments of the Seattle show, and Page (further discouraged after being blasted by pyrotechnics) fares no better. Remarkably, though not a single chord that Page plays during “Achilles Last Stand” actually belongs in the song, he nails the solo and survives “Stairway to Heaven”–evidently just in an effort to bother people.
Well aware it would seem of the Tempe aberration, the group resolves to fight its way through ailment and rust for the opening date in Oakland. Part of the not-quite-annual “Day on the Green” concert series staged by Bill Graham, the Oakland afternoon spots have suffered undue criticism based in part on the principle of guilt by association with both the other July shows and non-musical developments. Though undoubtedly average at times, the shows represent a reclamation of vigor and some (musical) stability. Page infamously disorients himself at the beginning of the “Ten Years Gone” solo, providing a five-second flub that has managed to discredit an otherwise exceptional rendition; Plant may in fact contribute his finest delivery of the song here, and Page exhibits no such difficulties elsewhere. Indisputably strong versions of “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You”, “No Quarter“, “Trampled Under Foot”, and “Achilles Last Stand” provide emotionally arduous showcases for Page and feature commendable group interplay, while “Black Dog” is brought out one last time as an encore.
The July 24 appearance, solid as well and seeing less tentative work from Plant, garners its own noteworthy addition with another acoustic “Mystery Train”. Despite Page’s displeasure with backstage events, he puts in another decent account of himself, while Plant and Bonham excel on “Kashmir” and could have sustained interest just as a duo. A healthy visual record of the shows endures, readily identifiable from both the sunlit hordes subsuming the Oakland Coliseum and Plant’s iconic “Nurses Do it Better!” t-shirt. Most intriguing though is the seventeen-minute audience footage compiling moments from the pre-show anticipation in the stands (set to a nice selection of Cream material playing over the speakers) to the rapturous encore at dusk. Lean on actual band footage, the video compels mainly due to its engrossing (if not wholly flattering) representation of a crowd that for once amounts to more than just indiscernible blurs supposedly portraying 70,000 faces. One concertgoer laments the absence of “Dazed and Confused”, a common sentiment among fans throughout the tour especially given the release of The Song Remains the Same less than a year prior, while the bootlegger captures a nose-bleed crowd that is wildly variant in appearance as well as fandom.
“As the Sun sets in the West” on July 24, 1977, so too does it on Led Zeppelin’s touring presence in North America. Peter Grant’s grand conception for “The Eighties, Part One” in fall 1980 would have represented yet another return for the group and its greatest triumph over physical and psychological adversity thus far, but the Live Aid, Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction reunions have provided the only performances on American soil in forty years. However misconstrued historically, the aborted forty-four date visit has outlasted all the misfortune set upon it and continues to engage listeners. Ideally, exposure to the recommended tapes should reclaim some faith and interest in the year’s work and, maybe, lend some justification to the (personal) belief that the finest moments of the 1977 North American Tour also happen to stand as the greatest, most affecting shows Led Zeppelin ever gave.
Standard Tour Set List:
“The Song Remains the Same”
“The Rover” (intro)/Sick Again”
“Nobody’s Fault But Mine”
“In My Time of Dying” (rotated with “Over the Hills and Far Away” after 6/10)
“Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You”
“No Quarter” (often interpolating classical music and, occasionally, ELP’s “Nutrocker”8)
“Ten Years Gone”
“The Battle of Evermore” (featuring John Paul Jones and, rarely, John Bonham on second vocal)
“Going to California”
“Black Country Woman”
“White Summer/Black Mountainside”
“Over the Top”
“Heartbreaker” (only played 6/10, 6/13, and 6/21; encore on 6/11)
“Achilles Last Stand”
“Stairway to Heaven”
“Whole Lotta Love” (abridged, beginning 5/22)
“Rock and Roll”
“Trampled Under Foot” (played following acoustic set after June 23)
“Communication Breakdown” (6/25)
“Black Dog” (4/13, 6/13, 7/23, and possibly 5/31)
“It’ll Be Me” (5/22 with Mick Ralphs and 6/26)
Acoustic Set Additions:
“Dancing Days” (5/26 and 6/27 during “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”)
“That’s All Right” (6/26)
“I Can’t Be Satisfied” (6/27)
“Mystery Train” (6/19 and 7/24)
Audio recordings of any have kind have yet to surface for the April 1 (Dallas), April 12 (Bloomington), April 13 (St. Paul), April 15 (St. Louis), April 17 (Indianapolis), May 19 (Baton Rouge), and May 31 (Greensboro) appearances, though color footage from the last two circulates; as always, several shows (such as the Cincinnati dates) exist on incomplete recordings.
- Unjustly maligned in subsequent decades and forever accorded an air of ill repute due to events largely unrelated to the performances, the tour languishes under the cloud of tragedy given its cancellation in late July following the death of Plant’s son, Karac, back in England. The degree of disdain exuded toward the tour persists as a result of the staunchly-held, near-canonical misconception that punk had effaced the band’s relevance, musical prowess, and popularity overnight in 1977 despite never attaining commercial viability in the U.S. and lacking significant recognition until years later. This attitude of course endured through the 1980s until the group’s endurance proved sufficiently aggravating, at which point even Led Zeppelin’s most fervent detractors (including Rolling Stone) adopted backhanded praise and passivity as a form of spiritual resistance that continued the musical liberation movement. In the wake of Plant’s mourning and the band’s silence, however, those who had taken offense to the group’s existence since 1968, as well as the self-anointed Samaritans of punk, seized the opportunity to indulge in spiteful remarks with no fear of reprisal. Ignored almost institutionally in recent years, 1977-80 saw the rock and general press engage in unprecedented (even for discussion of Led Zeppelin) vitriol that flouted any notion of professional or moral constitution. That paid adults found it acceptable to publicly attribute the death of a child to karmic retribution or Page’s fondness for occult history transcended the inanity to which the band had been subjected since 1969 yet evidently did not warrant censure. Remarkably, these efforts only established a precedent later exploited following Bonham’s death and the band’s dissolution in blaming Page for any misfortune that befell the members and casting the group’s final years as some deserved collapse. Notably, New Musical Express declared Led Zeppelin “the worst group in the world” following the Knebworth concerts in August of 1979 and, earlier in the year, had referred to the group in preface as the “most reviled of the old superfart bands” in what to this day is considered one of the more tempered pieces of journalism from the era. Rolling Stone, by 1979, had long abandoned any pretense of objectivity in its handling of Led Zeppelin and under the headline of “Sad Zep” panned In Through the Out Door with a (somehow) factually-flawed review that holds its own among the magazine’s prior exercises in vindictiveness. Rock criticism had, by the end of the decade, reached the verdict that not only did the members of Led Zeppelin have nothing to offer musically and had accomplished nothing in eleven years but no one on the face of the Earth could stomach the band’s existence. Incidentally, none of these publications got around to mentioning that the brown paper bag-cloaked album topped the charts in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, sold three million copies in the U.S. within one month, and was actually regarded as having “saved” a record market that had stalled with the declining popularity of disco and the punk travesty. More vindicating, however, was the fact that Led Zeppelin’s entire catalogue–nine albums (eleven discs)–charted in the Billboard Top 200 at once, a feat that conceivably did little to mend relations.
- 5/30 remains by far the strongest performance captured on soundboard, with the renditions of “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You”, “No Quarter”, “Achilles Last Stand”, “Stairway to Heaven”, and “Rock and Roll” ranking among the best from the tour. 5/22, the most recent unearthing, stands a satisfying second ahead of the flawed but enjoyable (and at times unearthly) 4/27 Cleveland show to be forever known as Destroyer, with the 5/28 Landover show a close fourth and the Garden opener and first two Landover shows vying for mediocrity. Fortune also happened to bestow upon fans fine documentation of two more of the tour’s least successful outings, with the impossibly inconsistent, video-sourced Seattle show and the truly unnecessary but (naturally) pristinely-preserved Houston misery. The reputedly-filmed May 21 Houston appearance (preceding Bad Company’s officially-released stop by two days) has inexplicably garnered devotees for its sound quality and Bonham’s inspired displays, but the show as a whole offers nothing memorable or particularly listenable aside from a sterling “Going to California” and a surprisingly convincing “Rock and Roll” redeemed after Page audibly trips over wires in the opening seconds. Seattle, alternatively, is almost impressive as an exercise in erraticism. For all the detractors, Plant is legitimately ailing–his voice breaks even during the stage banter and song introductions–while Page exacts retribution on bootleggers with several notable slip-ups among an otherwise decent performance. Miscommunication (or daring) results in an off-key solo during “Over the Hills and Far Away”, while “Achilles Last Stand” inherits a flare-up in the guitarist’s reported “sleeping sickness”. Contrarily, he turns out entertaining and technically solid solos during “Sick Again” and the note-perfect “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and meanders through a memorable, at times scintillating “No Quarter” (with a stinging “boogie woogie” solo) that happens to feature commensurately strong work from John Paul Jones. Jones, Bonham, and Plant subsequently wander through the longest recorded airing of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” after Page breaks a string, while Bonham exceeds himself during his final drum solo with Led Zeppelin–a superb event fortunately immortalized on film. Despite Plant’s cracks, “Kashmir” manages to remain enjoyable, while the band pulls itself together for a harrowingly delicate “Stairway to Heaven” that supplies a contender for Page’s finest recorded solo on the piece. The mood carries over into the riotous “Whole Lotta Love”/”Rock and Roll” encore, with the band putting to shame any rival for sheer intensity and perseverance in the show’s closing moments. Led Zeppelin’s 1977 Seattle stop, though not technically found on soundboard, nonetheless represents a legitimately unique affair.
- Honors for the most misunderstood or unfairly criticized performances likely go to the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum “Day on the Green” shows that mark Led Zeppelin’s final U.S. appearances, the Louisville show, and the second night at the Los Angeles Forum, the last of which proves exceptional even for June. Largely derided for its subpar sound quality (not provided by Mike Millard) and placement between the unassailable Listen to This Eddie and For Badgeholders Only shows, the second night in L.A. compares favorably with any other Led Zeppelin performance at the venue. Augmented by some incomplete yet engrossing footage, the show features ruthless work throughout, especially for “No Quarter”, “Achilles”, and “Stairway”, but reaches the greatest heights with Page’s tempestuous solo in “Over the Hills and Far Away” and likely the best, most outlandish performance of “In My Time of Dying” on record (those two songs being included in the same set list only this once on the tour).
- Page subsequently employed the B-Bender-outfitted Telecaster for live performances of “All My Love” and “Hot Dog” and continued to use the rig after his time with Led Zeppelin (most notably on the Chopin adaptation “Prelude” from the Death Wish II soundtrack and in concert with The Firm).
- Page wanders into “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You” without the band before composing himself, but by “Ten Years Gone” he suffers pain so severe that he resorts to sitting on Bonham’s drum riser (all the while playing, of course). After Plant’s announcement of a brief delay to accommodate this bout of “gastroenteritis”, Richard Cole informs the audience that Page cannot continue but implores the audience to hang onto their ticket stubs for a rescheduled, compensatory show (later slated for August 3). Ultimately attributed to food poisoning (likely not aided by a banana daiquiri-based diet), Page’s ailment is traditionally albeit speculatively blamed on drug and/or alcohol abuse. Plant gallantly addressed the insinuations from a local radio station, The Loop, that Page had been drinking an “alcohol substance all day” the following night, stating, “It’s fair to say that Mr. Page neither smokes, drinks, takes women or does anything like that, so we’d like an apology from The Loop tomorrow and another crate of the same alcohol, please”.
- A member of the crowd screams his request for “Heartbreaker” after nearly every song and, memorably, lets out an unsettling (audible over the other 19,000 people losing their minds) but appropriate shriek after Page assents. Presumably, his name is not Eddie as well.
- A thrashing interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, the ELP arrangement was performed by the band on April 25 (Louisville), April 28 (Cleveland), May 22 (Fort Worth), and June 7 (New York); the last two are available on soundboard.