Mark Drobnick
Mark Drobnick

Led Zeppelin at Stadium

Double Vision
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Page and Plant joust
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Danelectro in hand
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Temporarily, about to Abandon "pizzicato"
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Les Paul, the sustainer
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Four Cornerstones of band
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Towering Two
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Nightcap coda
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Group bio
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Individual bios
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Peter Grant honorably mentioned
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"Led Zeppelin at Stadium"

It was all four original members, during opening nite of a four-concert string of shows, at the hockey rink which pre-dates today's United Center (Chicago).  Jimmy Page played guitars and mandolin; Robert Plant did vocals and harmonica; John Paul Jones, bass and keyboards; and, John Bonham, drums and percussion.

Check out the event photos and plates.  The first portion is thanks to "Little Barry" (pharmacy student from my dorm at west side, medical center).  The remainder consists of publicity stills and background info, obtained from Zep's London, England, home office.  I have both sets attached herein, two different formats.  [Double-click to view, supra].  When did concert happen?  Answer:  April 1977.

Rolling Stone magazine reviewed the rock show in a single page, topped by action photo.  What I recall about that report is, they got it right in their imagery that Zep was a mythological dragon thrashing its heavy metal tail about the venue during the course of the evening.  But, R.S. got it so wrong when they called the bass player and drummer, the "clumsiest rhythm section in all of rock music."

When I listen to Jones and Bonham on Zep tracks today, with considerably more musical knowledge acquired, both theoretical and applied, I am genuinely impressed by how masterful they are.  Those two are as perfect as humans can be, for what the genre dictates.  What more could you ask for?

I was there with a date, nursing student Mary Ellen.  Accompanying us, were a classmate chum of mine from med school, Bob (future anesthesiologist), and his date from Northwestern, where he had studied chemistry, prior.  

Hemp smell pervaded the air --- it was the 70's after all.  The arena was filled to capacity, some seventeen thousand spectators, all enclosed under roof, patently unsettled and raucous.

I remember someone from the balcony tossing off a lit firecracker, down towards the stage late in the show.  It exploded near the musicians, which got everyone's attention.  

The fan did not seem to be a shill --- successful ones never do! --- i.e. a secretly planned part of the show, deceivingly served up as ostensibly unexpected.  In other words, shill serves as illusion, not genuinely what seems to be, but, achieving to augment the emotion of the show in eyes of the beholder.  

More specifically, "claqueur" would be the appropriate noun, when referring exclusively to musical shows, i.e a plant secreted in by adminstrator(s), to further egg on, animate, and manipulate the crowd's mood.  Maybe the reader has insightfully wondered about this phenomenon in connection with magic acts or hypnotists.  How much of what we're seeing is authentic?  

In a related vein, espionage's double agent is another construct who opportunistically symbiotizes upon crowd psychology, again, to engineer a pre-planned, targeted result, and unbeknownst to the rest of the participants.  Very sneaky!  

In any event, Robert Plant, often bombastic and fearless, characteristically, cooly observed and counseled:  "no, no, no, [no more of that] must be the chemicals people are on," as he wagged a reprimanding, but forgiving finger at the offender(s).  Then the band returned to its set, not missing a beat.

Notwithstanding, by and large, there was very little patter with the audience, throughout the evening.  It was one song after the next; very scarce talk between.  Surely this is in marked contrast to some musicians I have attended in concert live:  e.g. Peter Noone ("Herman"), Gordon Lightfoot, or John Prine, come to mind immediately as relatively loquacious.  And, with Zep, my memory is that no one other than Plant vocalized anything into the mic.

The showmen, really, were Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who diametrically strutted back and forth across stage during the entire course of the evening.  [They exuded] Lots of energy.  The other two were relatively more focused solely upon musical technique.  

John Bonham's appearance was decidedly overweight, I mean round.  But, he had this cool t-shirt on, which I've managed to get a replica of, for myself.  

At first glance, it appears one is wearing a tuxedo.  Only upon closer inspection, can it be discerned that the "tux" is merely an image, painted upon a background of black.  Serves to look rather upper crust, while avoiding being ostentatious.  It's putting on the dog, the dog!; cheap trick, to great effect.

Bonham rendered the Moby Dick solo upon a stage that moved out towards the audience as he drummed on, while the rest of the band exited for a "take five".  When I looked at how big, how massive was the man, I could understand why the percussion on Zep tracks sounds so powerful.  He obviously could lend a lot of mass and force to it.

Coincidentally, this same stadium served as Bonham & co.'s mentor's venue the very next month.  I am referring to his excellency, the king.  Mr. Elvis Presley performed, literally, his Chicago swan song here, before he left, the building, and a few months later, literally, this world.

In point of fact, Bonham's band, same as Beatles several years before, each had made the pilgrimage to Graceland to call upon the king, at court.  Legend has it that Elvis was largely sullen in receiving both groups of musicians, either time.  He never did jam with the Beatles.  And, as to Led Zep, seems any chemistry, rapport, and simpatico, solely chanced with Bonham.  I think the two waxed on about cars.  

Coincidentally, as events turned out, it was precisely Elvis and Bonzo, no one else but these individuals, who were to be in the near, short term, soonest in line to ascend to knock upon the pearly gates.  To declare they were kindred spirits, literally, couldn't be any more pithy.  Brings to mind a musical comment from Billy Joel:  "only the good die young."  

Now, I most definitely do not imply anything perjorative about the survivors; we are here too, after all, reading this.  On the contrary, it is simply to note how curious the two men's unique, mutual affinity for one another was, and to imply that in meditating upon them, both are sorely missed.  For example, Bonham's devastating demise meant Zep's going defunct.

John Paul Jones was dependable throughout the evening, but hardly ever shining in the limelight, except during "No Quarter".  His hair was the most under control, combined with clean shaven, compared to the rest.  Still, it serviceably pushed the envelope, and nothing nearly as conservative as he wears these days.

Jimmy Page made a grand entrance, dressed as zeppelin captain, military hat and dark sunglasses firmly in place, and grinning from ear to ear, lots of pearly whites showing.  [The rest of the costume was] Black t-shirt and suspenders, highlighting vintage jodhpurs he sported, finished off by boots.  Quite showy and charismatic!  Check out the 2nd album cover for idea of his costume.  Couldn't miss this guy in a crowd.  

He was jaunty, festive, and electric, clearly enamored of being there.  His enthusiasm was immediately contagious.  He made several costume changes throughout the evening, including to an irridescent, yellow pant suit, which hypnotically reflected the laser light show, even if the stage floor was beset with fog, during segments.

All these years later, I still remember parts of the set list!  (No notes!)  The very first song was "Song Remains the Same".  The very last --- this was their one encore --- "Rock and Roll".  The adieu (Fr.) éxito (Span.) was kicked off with flash-pot lights and firework geysers at stage front, corners, as Bonzo drummed away the intro, with guitar and bass ensuing.  

(By this point in the show, we had already experienced the surprise fireworks from the balcony.  Nevertheless, "anti-climactic" would be most inapropos in referring to the encore pyrotechnics.)

All transpired over a solid, three hours:  no warm-up group, no intermission break.  There was a change of pace, half way thru, where the four cohorts sat in a semi-circle and performed some acoustic, markedly less electronically-altered tunes, e.g. "Black Country Woman".

Other songs played were:  Kashmir (laser-light show projected from back, geometric designs scurrying across walls and ceiling), Stairway to Heaven (with double-necked guitar utilized), Achilles' Last Stand, Nobody's Fault, Whole Lotta Love, and How Many More Times.  (I vividly recall Page rasping violin bow across guitar strings during cued segments of the last arrangement, then "blessing us" with spent bow, shredded cat-gut dangling).  Rounding out what I remember now, were Black Dog, Going to California, The Rain Song, Custard Pie, Trampled Under Foot, Ten Years Gone, The Wanton Song, and In The Light.

Page made his guitar improvisations, masterfully performed throughout the evening.  They were quite appropriate, right on beat and harmony, and a definite departure from segments one heard on the songs' studio versions.  Here was valuable bootleg material, to be sure.   

Plant would stand at a corner of stage front, puffing a cigarette, during his breaks, gazing at the balcony.  I don't know how bad smoke might be for a singer's voice, e.g. Sinatra comes to mind as another "habitué", who seemed, not to let vocation interfere with lifestyle.  

Other renowned singers with that smoker's "image" are Bing Crosby as to his pipe, Dean Martin crooning next to his pal pianist Ken Lane, Sammy Davis Jr., and Nat King Cole.  In spite of the prop publicity, all delivered as exceptional singers, each in his own right.   

But, alcohol most definitely is a problem because it is an astringent.  So, it constricts the otherwise relaxed, vocal cord muscles.  That definitely is bad for anyone who wants to sound their best singing.  However, I am not implying Robert was imbibing anything other than bottled water during the duration of the performance.  Conduct was invariably professional, as to himself, bandmates, and crew.

Well, overall, it was quite the event.  I still recollect the tickets with promoter's name printed thereupon:  "Jerry Weintraub presents, evening with Led Zeppelin."

These were the artists touted as being on a par with their predecessors, the Beatles or Stones.  And, they were!  Quite the talented foursome, they turned out to be:  Page, Plant, Jones, & Bonzo.  

I had already possessed the albums.  Their music was ubiquitously broadcast all over radio, AM and FM.  (It still is!)  

They most certainly lived up to all I had heard about them.  Definitely, it was one of the most memorable concerts I ever attended.

Epilogue:  Mary Ellen got my yellow, Led Zep t-shirt, with their first album cover emblazoned in embossed, black ink, upon its front.  She had asked for it, and I gallantly said, "yes"!  "Oh, the humanity!"

Mary Ellen, I fondly remember as being the first female who had ever pushed me fully clothed, into a swimming pool.  That was on a school trip down to Florida during Easter break.  I never did fathom where her inspiration came from, other than general playfulness!  

Later, I discovered that local girl made good, actress Ann-Margret, had done something similar to Elvis.  That can be found, preserved for posterity, in a motion picture those two made together.

Back to the Zep shirt, I see a similar one, these days, as retro merchandise in Target corp. stores, for about $20.  Exact duplicate.  It could be somewhere on my list of priorities for Fathers' Day ("celebration day") caprices, although admittedly, not first.

Inexorably, as time marches on, so some things change.  Almost doesn't need to be explained.  That was then, and this is now.

by Mark Drobnick © 2014



{ posted:  12 July 2014 }



Attachments -----

159 - "Double Vision"  (time lapse photography) --- Bonham's too heavy and Page, too light; this festered into the abortive cancellation of one of the subsequent concerts in the same series, because Page took ill, during act, on-stage.
160 - "Page and Plant joust" --- physical give-and-take during performance

161 - "Danelectro in hand" (No.  That's not alluding to any MARVEL, Spider-Man super-villain!)
162 - "Temporarily, about to Abandon 'pizzicato'"
163 - "Les Paul, the sustainer"

164 - "Four Cornerstones of band"
165 - "Towering Two"
166 - "Nightcap coda"  

167 - Group bio:  trail blazers  
168 - Individual bios:  Page-Sessions, Yardbirds, then Led Zeppelin; Plant-Birmingham to London;  

169 - (bios contd.) J.P. Jones-most extensive musical background, worked with Stones, Dusty Springfield & Donovan, met Page on last; Bonham, a natural, Plant's first colleague of group.  

Manager P. Grant, really was "the finest".  Who else could have attained for band that they would ultimately get to keep as much as 90% of their box office receipts, routinely, at concert?  How few artists might boast so lucrative a windfall?  



Photos 159 - 162, by "Little Barry" © 1977
Plates 163 - 169, courtesy of Led Zeppelin Home Office, London, U.K. (1976 issue)



Double Vision
Page and Plant joust
Danelectro in hand
Temporarily, about to Abandon "pizzicato"
Les Paul, the sustainer
Four Cornerstones of band
Towering Two
Nightcap coda
Group bio
Individual bios
Peter Grant honorably mentioned


Mark Drobnick


Waukegan, Illinois  USA


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