Classic Rock Review

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LZ-’75 The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour by Stephen Davis (2010)

lz75From amazon.com

As one of the “millions of kids” that attended a Led Zeppelin concert during their 1975 “Physical Graffiti” Tour, I consumed this book immediately. Stephen Davis’ newest contribution to the Led Zeppelin canon was nothing more than a refreshment of every “Circus,” “Rolling Stone,” “Creem” or “Hit Parader” article written about this tour that I had read.

Davis’ scholarly/historian pen of “Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga” has been superseded with a dumbed-down adjective-laced prose that borders on corny. Gleaned from decades lost notebooks kept while on assignment for The Atlantic Monthly, placing Davis among Zeppelin’s entourage for two crucial months of the tour, this mere 217-page chronicle comes off as a rush job instead of the Tour de Force it could have been.

Davis writes from his own perspective as a journalist, not a fan. Readers should keep this in mind. As any good reporter, Davis gives his readers the “who, what, where, when and how,” but is less than successful at the “why” events happened the way they did. Davis’ offers personal slant, but, unlike “Hammer of the Gods,” little hindsight or analytical reflection. Having observed Led Zeppelin in their acclaimed 1969 Boston Tea Party Concert, Davis seems to view Zeppelin’s 1975 Tour as a gaudy spectacle: repeatedly alluding to the addition of John Bonham’s drum riser, the laser beam light show, and a radiant 15,000 light bulb Led Zeppelin that closed every concert.

Davis reminds us that this tour was wracked with problems from the start: The tour took place in the worst winter weather in recent memory. Robert Plant suffered from the flu, which noticeably affected his vocal performance during the early shows. Jimmy Page smashed his hand in a sub-way door that almost canceled the tour, and the release of the new album, “Physical Graffiti” was delayed,

The author paints his own portraits of the band members, as well. Legendary drummer John Bonham, affectionally known as “Bonzo” to his adoring fans, is called “The Beast” behind his back among Zeppelin’s inner circle. Drowning an acute bout of homesickness in alcohol, Bonham lashed out violently and would physically assault the closest man or woman at a whim. Davis has an obvious dislike for Bassist/Keyboardist John Paul Jones, perhaps because Jones avoided everyone, especially journalists. Davis repeatedly ribs Jones about everything from his exceedingly long, boring “lounge music” keyboard solos, to his new hair cut, which Robert Plant likened to that of Liberace.

It is not until almost the end of the book that Davis finally credits Jones as being an indispensible contributor of Zeppelin’s music. Davis paints Jimmy Page as the unapproachable reclusive tortured genius of the band. When not on stage, Page remained in a darkened hotel suite, lit only by an array of candles, an insomniac, often sitting on a couch at all hours strumming an acoustic guitar craving new inspiration. Just how far Page was into what would become a debilitating heroin addiction, and whether the myth that the Satanic aficionado Page offered his soul to the Devil, in the form of an oath signed in blood by all band members, in exchange for the musical fame are questions Davis ponders, but, not surprisingly, cannot nail. Davis portrays Robert Plant as a jovial, blonde rock god, early multi-culturalist, already delving into traditional Moroccan and Jamaican Reggae music, but by 1975, singing a full octave lower than the early albums. Davis’ adventures arranging and ultimately conducting hotel room interviews with Page (brief) and Plant (lengthy) are entertaining and revealing.

As an on-the-scene-journalist, Davis noticeably, but expectantly lacks a musician’s perspective coupled with a glaring unfamiliarity with Zeppelin’s fans. As an insider, Davis knew not what a fan makes, just as a fan knew little of life in the inner circle. On the plus side, Davis sums up every show in a few sentences. Interesting are his translations of Plant’s coded bantering between songs, and how the band mixed up the set each night: changing the encore, or inserting parts of songs in the middle of others. Davis has a few favorite songs which he refers to repeatedly: “Kashmir” and “Trampled Under Foot” for example. Less accurate are Davis’ interpretation of the fans reactions to Zeppelin’s new material.

For instance, Davis argues that not until the long awaited release of “Physical Graffiti” in late February 1975, did concert goers finally warm up to the hauntingly slide rendition of “In My Time of Dying.” Davis seems to have forgotten that radio stations were already playing advanced promo cuts from the new album, and Led Zeppelin fans possessed more musical savvy than the hoards of teeny-boppers Davis portrays them to be. Davis mistakes the fan frenzy of 1970s rock concerts (throwing of fire crackers and items onto the stage) as signs of disapproval of the new songs. Pleasing to this reviewer’s memory was Davis’ description of the February 8 show at the Philadelphia Spectrum in which huge burly security guards roughed up a fan simply trying to take a photo. During the scuffle, Page kicked out one of the vaudeville type foot lights (Davis forgot) while Plant poked the ruffian with his mike stand (I forgot).

Davis was welcomed into Zeppelin’s entourage, and when his research was deemed complete, immediately let go (the author continues the narrative to the UK Earl’s Court concert, and Plant’s tragic car accident that forced the cancellation of the second leg of the U.S. tour). Along the way, readers get a peek into Zeppelin’s world of drugs, Groupies, and life on the road with the world’s greatest rock band at the pinnacle of their career. For a new generation of fans, too young to remember, Davis offers only a brief overview. For us Baby-boomers who do remember, a more mature, in-depth approach would have been nice. Three-and-a-half stars.

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April 12, 2013 - Posted by | Book LZ-'75 The Lost Chronicles Of Led Zeppelins 1975 American Tour By Stephen Davis | , ,

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