I saw Led Zeppelin 11 times during my stint on Melody Maker, the first time at the Bath Festival in 1970 and the final time at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1977. I’ve written about the two shows in Montreux and their 1975 US tour elsewhere on Just Backdated but here’s reports of two UK shows I attended, the text taken from Dave Lewis’ Led Zeppelin Concert File which I commissioned and edited. Both contain extracts from my MM reviews.
I remember both shows quite well. The Marquee was a complete scrum, and seeing Led Zeppelin, by ’71 one of the biggest bands in the world, on such a small stage was quite surreal. In the cold light of day I didn’t think it was such a good idea and said so in my report. The December ’72 show at Alley Pally was the first and only time I saw a show there, and again there were issues that I commented on. That one was just before Christmas and I seem to remember driving up to Yorkshire the next morning to spend a few days with my dad, and writing my review on my portable Olivetti while up there.
TUESDAY MARCH 23, 1971
Set included: Immigrant Song/Heartbreaker/Black Dog/Dazed And Confused/Stairway To Heaven/Going To California/Whole Lotta Love/Communication Breakdown.
A nostalgic return to the Marquee Club. Demand for this date was predictably high. Tickets went on sale on March 1 with the box office set to open at 10 o’clock. Due to the extraordinary length of the queue, the box office was forced to open at 3.30 in the morning. The tickets were sold mainly to Marquee Club members on a strict one ticket per membership card holder system. Club manager Jack Barrie commented on the demand: “We asked the group if they could do two shows on the night or perhaps two or three other nights. But Zeppelin play a set of over two hours and can’t do more in one evening and they have already other dates booked.”
Chris Charlesworth, in his Melody Maker review, questioned the wisdom of their move back to the clubs: “It was all very nostalgic for Led Zeppelin to play London’s Marquee club, but was it such a good idea really? Naturally the place was packed to overflowing. Naturally the group was pretty good, though the sound suffered from the small surroundings. But how much better it might have been if Zep had chosen the Lyceum or the Roundhouse for the only London venue on the current tour.
“As it was, hundreds instead of thousands were able to see the group who a little over two years ago played here as the ‘Former Yardbirds’ and attracted little interest.
“Zeppelin are a group to be looked up to on a pinnacle for all to see. A group that can pack New York’s Madison Square Garden just isn’t right in the intimate atmosphere of the Marquee. The Marquee in all its long history has probably never seen a night like it, but I still doubt the wisdom of choosing the club in favour of a larger venue.”
FRIDAY DECEMBER 22, 1972
Set: Rock And Roll/Over The Hills And Far Away/Black Dog/Misty Mountain Hop/Since I’ve Been Loving You/Dancing Days/Bron Yr Aur Stomp/The Song Remains The Same/The Rain Song/Dazed And Confused (inc. San Francisco)/Stairway To Heaven/Whole Lotta Love (inc. Everybody Needs Somebody - Boogie Chillun’ - Let’s Have A Party - Heartbreak Hotel - I Can’t Quit You - The Shape I’m In)/Immigrant Song/Heartbreaker/Organ Solo - Thank You.
A moderately successful return to London - hindered by the poor acoustics of the venue.
Plant: “It’s a bit warmer than the last gig we managed to pull off - that was at that notorious Wembley place. Well, I think we must install the warmth of our bodies into this place very quickly, before we all freeze! It’s always the same - freezing!”
Robert explained that they’ve had a bit of trouble on this tour, and dedicated ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ to “Manchester CID, and may they have a very merry Christmas!” ‘Dancing Days’ was described as “a song about summer, inebriation and good times” and Plant repeatedly ad-libbed the line “Let’s go back to high school!”
‘Bron Yr Aur Stomp’ again included backing vocals from John Bonham. Plant explained: “He’s now turned into a vocalist. He first started off with an old Conway Twitty number, ‘It’s Only Make Believe’, which was accidentally missed off the last album.”
Plant was full of Christmas spirit. “You lucky people. It’s getting very close to Christmas and if we were all as straight as we used to be, we should be at the office party now. Nevertheless, this is something that takes us nearly as far back as that.” An excellent version of ‘Dazed And Confused’ featured some outstanding call and response duels between Page and Plant. The ‘San Francisco’ section now also included lyrics.
‘Whole Lotta Love’ was very loose, and during ‘Boogie Chillun’’, Plant ad-libbed: “I was brought up on strong religion, and all I did was keep on givin’… Our little boy’s come to the age of 24 years, and he’s learnt to sing in American... a hard language to learn to sing after a war.”
Zeppelin’s decision to perform at Alexandra Palace was an attempt to open up a new London venue, as they had with the Empire Pool. However, problems with the sound and the cold atmosphere hampered the success of the event. “It sounded great on stage,” said Plant afterwards, “but beyond the first ten rows the sound was atrocious.”
Chris Charlesworth reviewed the London return for Melody Maker: “Alexandra Palace was never built to rock. The atmosphere inside this giant hall seemed cold and forbidding. It would have been possible to fit twice as many fans inside but fire regulations don’t permit that so there was an abundance of space around the throng who crowded to the front and into the centre.
“And for those who didn’t get to the front or centre, seeing and hearing Zep was a chancy business. If you were tall you could probably see over a sea of heads, but even then there was a diminishing sound that flew up into the rafters and returned as a disjointed series of echoes. My guess is that only about a half of the fans heard the music as it should have been heard.”
Tomorrow I'll turn my attention to Robert Plant.