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Led Zeppelin Knebworth Masters (August 1979)

090908050259From collectorsmusicreviews.com

Knebworth Festival, Stevenage, England – August 4th, 1979

DVD 1: Introduction, The Song Remains The Same, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Ten Years Gone, Hot Dog, The Rain Song, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir

DVD 2: Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, Guitar / Bow Solo, In The Evening, Stairway To Heaven

DVD 3: Audience, Rock And Roll, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker. Knebworth Extras: 8mm Cine Films, BBC Radio at Knebworth Park, Rock And Roll – DVD off-cut, Heartbreaker – Alt Camera Mix, Heartbreaker – Solo Camera

Knebworth Masters is hopefully the final word on Led Zeppelin’s first Knebworth show in 1979. A little bit of footage from this show circulated for almost twenty years, from the Swan Song video for “Hot Dog” and for a two-song fragment, “Ten Years Gone” and “Heartbreaker,” being taken from the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary show in 1988. After the footage was utilized on the official DVD in 2003, the entire concert surfaced thanks to Watchtower on the two DVD set Secrets Revealed.

Watchtower was pricey and hard to find however. A more viable option was The First Night (Boogie Mama) released soon afterwards. Boogie Mama utilized DVD9 dual layer disc technology to fit the entire show onto one disc. But is also had some issues with pixelation in the darker pictures on the video.

Knebworth Masters claims to be from the master video which may be true. Unlike the other two prior titles, the pictures is almost perfect all the way through the entire show. The colors are a bit off in some of the brighter moments but overall the picture is sharp, detailed, colorful and very lively making the two and a half performance a joy to watch. Since the video was geared for the large screens above the stage to give those sitting in the back a view of the action, the shots favor intense close ups of faces, fingers, guitars and pianos. It is funny to see some of the strange faces Jimmy Page and Robert Plant make to one another, a subtly probably missed by much of the audience that night.

The bonus material on disc three includes 8mm footage of the event, a BBC radio report by DJ Tommy Vance and several “works in progress” footage of “Rock And Roll” and “Heartbreaker” from several angels. It works well as a bonus to give one a historical context in enjoying the show and to hear what the press were speculating regarding Zeppelin’s Knebworth shows. This three DVD set now stands as the definitive version of this video.

The importance of these shows is best summed up by author Dave Lewis, who wrote: “For many in attendance it was their first ever concert experience. For many it would be the only time that they would get to see Zeppelin perform live. For that reason alone it holds a special affection in their live history. The first show in particular, with so much riding on it, was perhaps the most important they ever played.” (Led Zeppelin: Celebration II: The ‘Tight But Loose’ Files).

The two warm up shows in Copenhagen revealed a band who were not quite ready to headline such massive events, a point that Robert Plant stated shortly after the two when he said: “Knebworth was useless. It was no good at all. It was no good because we weren’t ready to do it, the whole thing was a management decision. It felt like I was cheating myself because I wasn’t as relaxed as I could have been. There was so much expectation there and the least we could have done was to have been confident enough to kill. We maimed the beast for life, but we didn’t kill it. It was good, but only because everybody made it good. There was that sense of event.”

Journalist Chris Welch, fifteen years afterwards, observed: “Fans [at Knebworth] were still supporting the band, but there was definitely a feeling [Led Zeppelin’s] days were numbered. Audience reaction at Knebworth had not been overwhelming and many seemed content to stand and stare, like mesmerized spectators at an alien ritual, a far cry from the hysteria of earlier shows. Robert Plant seemed perplexed at the silence between songs, when you could practically hear a pin drop in that vast, cold field. It wasn’t until he led the way into ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Trampled Underfoot’ that roars of appreciation began to echo around Knebworth. Robert’s only comment at the end of the last show was a guarded ‘It’s been quite good.’” The soundboard tapes caused a general re-evaluation of the event which was given another boost when much of the August 4th show was used on the official Led Zeppelin DVD.

The video tape begins with the pre-show canned music before “The Song Remains The Same” and “Celebration Day” both sounding very intense and afterwards Plant sounds very excited greeting an audience in England for many years: ”Well, I said Well. ah ah. I said Well. Good evening. Good evening. It’s nice to see you again. I told Pagey that one or two people would be here, but he said he doubted it very much. Well I can’t tell you how it feels. I think you can probably, you’ve got a good idea anyway, but it’s great.”

“Black Dog” in 1979 sounds very light and punkish compared to versions in the past. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is referred to as the time they “went to Munich and made an album called Presence which had a track on it Charles Schaar Murray really liked…he’s still taking the pills.”

One of the highlights of the show is “No Quarter” where Plant introduces John Paul Jones as “the man from Casablanca…some say a man in his own right, other say Royal Orleans” because of his white suit. At eighteen minutes long, Jones plays a tasteful solo on the electric piano recalling the same unified vision of the Earls Court performances capped off by one of the best solos by Page of the evening. “Ten Years Gone” is also tight. This is also the final time it is played live by Led Zeppelin since it will be dropped the following week.

Before “Hot Dog” Plant addresses all the people who came, from “Comharden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Kidderminster, Freddie Bannister” and laments the delay of the new album, “so the album that came out two weeks ago unfortunately got delayed again. First it was a fortnight ago, and then it was a week ago, now it’s next Friday. It just goes on and on and on. This is a track from it that we should dedicate to trials in America.” He is surprised that people know the title already, “How come you know what it’s called? You’ve been reading about the Swedish and the Danish, hey?”

After the tepid performance he becomes defensive, saying “Yes, still got a sense of humor….So we got all the way here, and now the equipment blows up. Never mind. It’s got to be better than Earls Court. Who’s the person who owned that goat and the little wagon that we saw out there two nights ago, camping out there? Just come round the back with us afterwards, and write an acoustic set with us.”

The guitar solo before “In The Evening” is a bit longer than in Copenhagen with the same fanfare Page used on the 1977 tour. The Götterdammerung introduction is very effective as a prelude to the new track which has its rough patches but is a great live vehicle. Before the final number Plant thanks the crowd for coming, saying “well all you people who’ve come so far, it’s been like a blind date, if you like. We’ve even loosened up and laughing. This is a song I guess we should …so many people who’ve helped us over the years, and no people more important that yourselves who come here on a blind date. This is for you.”

There is no editing in the tape after “Stairway To Heaven” so several minutes of chanting and cheering in audible before the encore set. Each of the Copenhagen shows received one, but both Knebworth shows got three. “Rock And Roll” is the first and following which the crowd serenade the band with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Plant joins and in twenty years afterwards, in an article in Mojo magazine, Page is quoted saying, “there were tears in the eyes” during that event.

“Whole Lotta Love” is played in the same arrangement premiered in the second Copenhagen show and although Page stumbles at bit in the transition from first verse to middle, comes off fine and “Heartbreaker” closes what is one of the most important gigs in Zeppelin’s career. Plant’s assessment is correct. It is a very good and professional performance that hints at their former prowess but their two year layoff is all too apparent.

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Knebworth Masters | , , | Leave a comment