Led Zeppelin, after a two year absence from the stage, scheduled one of the biggest comebacks in the history of of rock. With two massive festival appearances in August, it was meant to give the band the biggest amount of exposure on the biggest stage in the British festival circuit. 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.
Both shows from the professional source have been in circulation for many years and have seen many worthy releases. Cosmic Energy, on of the pioneer labels for video titles, gives the two Knebworth shows a sterling BluRay transfer. Much like with their work on the Earl’s Court and Page & Plant in Irvine videos, there is noticeable improvement in clarity over other versions. The picture is more sharp and the colors are more rich and vibrant.
Cosmic Energy also score high marks for packaging. The carry case come in a brown paper bag (inspired by the In Through The Outdoor marketing campaign) and has many other artifacts such as a miniature reproduction of the program, tickets, button and a poster. It’s one of the best packages Cosmic Energy has ever assembled.
Knebworth Festival, Stevanage, England – August 4th, 1979
BluRay Disc 1: The Song Remains the Same, Celebration Day, (Out On the Tiles intro) 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, Rain Song, White Summer ~ Black Mountainside, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, Jimmy Page solo, In The Evening, Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker
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.
Knebworth Festival, Stevanage, England – August 11th, 1979
BluRay Disc 2: The Song Remains the Same, Celebration Day, (Out On the Tiles intro) Black Dog, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over the Hills and Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Hot Dog, Rain Song, White Summer ~ Black Mountainside, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, Jimmy Page solo, In The Evening, Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown
After the opening songs Plant shows his bitterness at being slammed in the press after the first Knebworth show, saying, “Well, it didn’t rain, but it rained on us in the week from one or two sources, and we’re just gonna stick it right where it really belongs.” It is immediately obvious that the emotion and intensity of the first week is lacking.
“Over The Hills And Far Away” is ruined by a loud crackling in the PA system. Page in particular sounds distracted during the solo and stumbles into the second half. “What’s going on?” Plant asks. “It must be the samosas” he jokes but the noises persist through “Misty Mountain Hop” which, “apart from a load of crackling featured Jonesy on narcissistic keyboards.”
“No Quarter” is fifteen minutes long and includes a masterful duet between Jones and Page in the middle section where there seems to be some telepathy between them proving this is one of the greatest live vehicles written by Led Zeppelin and it is a shame this would be the final live version.
“Ten Years Gone” is dropped so Plant goes into the long introduction to the first new song of the set, saying, “In the neolithic caves in Peru they’ve been finding a lot of colored drawings on the walls, and along with the colored drawings they also found a new album cover. We’re managing to get the album out in about two weeks. As you’ve no doubt read the reviews, it’s tremendous. You can imagine. It’s called In Through the Out Door, which is one of the methods of entry that proves to be harder that one would originally expect. And this is one of the tracks from it. It’s called…and we dedicate this to the Texas road crew, and all the people to be found in the sleazy hangouts around there…it’s called Hot Dog.”
“The Rain Song” is very strong and the tape picks up Jones playing some pretty and unique bass-lines in the middle of the piece. The next portion of the set is occupied with some of their most adventurous songs of tours and journeys beginning with “White Summer.”
Whether the thematic link was intentional or not, but “Kashmir,” “Trampled Underfoot,” “Sick Again” and “Achilles Last Stand” all deal with motion and adventures in foreign lands in one way or another. They are performed well although “Sick Again” seems to puzzle the audience and “Achilles Last Stand” stumbles out of the gate and is generally sloppy.
Everyone seems tires after “In The Evening” as Plant introduces the final song of the main set, saying, “it comes to the time now when we really got to thank you for hanging about for four years you English folk. And you French people, for hanging about since ooh, I don’t know how long. I would like to thank everybody who’s come from everywhere to create part of the atmosphere that we’ve had. The other bands that we’ve had with us, Commander Cody. Good, good, good, good. Todd, Keith, and Ronny [Keith Richards and Ron Wood who opened for Zeppelin as the New Barbarians]. Peter Grant. Thanks everybody.”
A tired version of “Stairway To Heaven” is played before they come back for the encores. “Can you do the dinosaur rock?” Plant asks before “Rock And Roll.” The new arrangement of “Whole Lotta Love” is much more tight and vicious this evening and the final encore is a quick version of “Communication Breakdown.”
“It’s been great….We’ll see you very soon. Don’t know about the Marquee, but somewhere soon. See you later, bye” are Plant’s parting words. For an historical piece this is a great document to have of this show, warts and all.
It’s remarkable how well these shows have aged. Each new release over the years has improved these festival’s reputation, and Mean Business certainly does that. It’s definitely worth the asking price and stands as the new definitive collection for these latter day Zeppelin concerts.