Evenings with Led Zeppelin: The Complete Concert Chronicle | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020  

Dave Lewis and Mike Tremaglio

Evenings with Led Zeppelin: The Complete Concert Chronicle

Published by Omnibus

Dec 18, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Spare a thought for all the poor postmen who have to deliver Evenings with Led Zeppelin: The Complete Concert Chronicle to mailboxes across the world. At 576 pages, the tome weighs so much because it contains a ton of information.

As the title promises, this hardcover volume offers a comprehensive history of every single Led Zeppelin live performance. It spans the early shows when the fledgling band initially went out under the moniker of The New Yardbirds in 1968. The book includes the February 28, 1970 gig in Copenhagen in which the group performed as The Nobs because Eva Von Zeppelin, a descendent of the airship designer, threatened legal action if they ever performed in Denmark as Led Zeppelin. And the final pages conclude with an account of the triumphant, one-off reunion concert by the three surviving members in 2007.

Evenings with Led Zeppelin (Omnibus Press) adheres to a template for each show. It chronicles the setlists, reviews bootleg recordings, and offers fastidious notes and observations about what made each night notably unique. Where possible, the authors feature pictures of the venues, photos from the show, clippings of concert ticket stubs and advertisements, and also include excerpts of press reviews.  

It's immediately apparent why it took British writer Dave Lewis and American writer Mike Tremaglio four years to write this book. Lewis, the world's preeminent Led Zeppelin expert, and Tremaglio, a meticulous scholar of Zeppelin's concert history, had to do a whole lotta research. Rather than just rely on often-erroneous reports of setlists and show dates-including those listed in Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, which Lewis co-authored with Simon Pallet in 2006-the duo started from scratch. The authors scrupulously scoured archival press pieces and listened to every available bootleg. For over 500 shows! One wouldn't blame Lewis and Tremaglio if they never want to hear the band's most-performed song, "Dazed and Confused," ever again. (Fun fact: the March 27, 1975 performance of "Dazed and Confused" at the Forum in L.A. stretched to 45 minutes, which is as long as the debut album that contains the original version.)

Led Zeppelin's concert history has arguably been overlooked, not least by the band itself. Its studio recordings continue to fuel a popularity that endures beyond generations. (See, for example, the usage of Led Zep's music in the recent HBO series Sharp Objects, references to the band in current movies such as Ralph Breaks the Internet and The Boy Who Would be King, or even the existence of the wan copyist group Greta Van Fleet.) Zeppelin's eight seminal studio releases, each one stylistically different from each other, feature a remarkably consistent quality of songwriting and production. Even though those albums capture the unique, collaborative sound of drummer John Bonham, bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page, and singer Robert Plant, it's only one half of the Led Zeppelin story.

The musicians' combustive chemistry made them one of the best live bands in the history of popular music. Many stages across the world still bear the scorch marks. Yet the band's concert output has been under-represented by official channels. A few years into Led Zep's career, band manager Peter Grant nixed requests for the band to appear on television because the medium couldn't fully capture the dynamism of the band's live shows. (Grant's objections notwithstanding, a 1969 appearance on Danish TV, now available on YouTube, showcases why the band was the word-of-mouth phenomenon of 1969-and beyond.) Zep not only eschewed television, but they also limited press access and declined to release singles to radio. It's hard to believe now, but Led Zeppelin was not a mainstream phenomenon during the 1970s, even though "the world's largest underground act" regularly broke stadium attendance records. Zeppelin's media-averse strategy meant that its live shows attained a status of mystique-shrouded legend.

For decades, the only available live album was The Song Remains the Same, the soundtrack of a 1976 concert movie. That cinema release included concert footage interspersed with fantasy sequences in which Jones reads Grimm fairy tales to his children ("Fee, Fi, Fo Fum!"), Bonham shows off his collection of expensive race cars, Page dresses up like Gandalf and waves a light-saber-like wand, and Robert Plant plays an Arthurian medieval knight who saves a damsel in distress with his sword. And then there are all the embarrassing bits. For instance, Plant's stage attire reveals that he's clearly not wearing underwear beneath his taut jeans. The band still remain red-faced about the live footage, some of which was filmed later in a studio dressed up to resemble Madison Square Garden. For all the concert's occasional moments of greatness such as the rocket-blast title track and a transportive "No Quarter," the performances were mostly just adequate.

In 1997, Led Zeppelin finally released another live document in the BBC Sessions. The compilation was sourced from five live-in-the-studio radio broadcasts. Six years later, Led Zeppelin offered up a pair of releases: How the West was Won, a thrilling two-night performance from 1972, plus a career-spanning DVD compilation from the limited filmed footage available. (Evenings with Led Zeppelin offers fascinating in-depth detail about these albums, revealing which songs are from which shows and how they've been edited and overdubbed.)  

Given that Led Zeppelin is the world's second-most bootlegged act after The Grateful Dead, it's a pity there's a relative dearth of official live material. As such, their exciting evolution as a concert act isn't fully appreciated beyond diehard bootleg collectors. This is where Evenings with Led Zeppelin comes in. The ever-changing setlists offer the reader some idea of how much the band improvised each night. The four musicians often detoured into spontaneous cover versions or snippets of other songs by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Sly & The Family Stone, and James Brown.

Paging through the individual entries in chronological order reveals how the group's approach to crafting concert experiences shifted over time. One gains appreciation for the blitzkrieg approach of the 1968-1970 shows, the elongated pacing of the band's live peak between 1971-1975, the bloated indiscipline of its marathon 1977 stadium tour, and the concise post-punk outings in Europe in 1980.

Evenings with Led Zeppelin also illumines how the public and press alike viewed the band during its 12-year lifetime. Though some notable rock writers such as Robert Hilburn and Charles Shaar Murray offered rave concert reviews, other write-ups ranged from less-than-appreciative to openly hostile. There's good reason that Cameron Crowe's movie Almost Famous mocked Rolling Stone magazine's snobbish coverage of Zeppelin. Reading through the reviews collected in Evenings with Led Zeppelin, it's apparent that an older generation of music writers simply wasn't prepared for the radical power of Led Zeppelin. They were frequently bewildered by its genre-spanning progressions. A frequent complaint leveled at the band is the old fogey complaint that they're "too loud." (Plant possibly alluded to these criticisms in the obtuse lyrics of his 1985 solo single "Too Loud.")

Evenings with Led Zeppelin also offers up wonderful glimpses into Led Zeppelin's cloistered lives off-stage. For example, there's an aside about the time Bonham cheekily pranked Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee at the Marquee Club. There's a note about how Page had to figure out how to play with three fingers after he slammed his hand in a train door at Victoria Station in 1975. We discover that Plant, still mourning the tragic death of his young son, had to be cajoled into rejoining the band for a 1978 rehearsal and was persuaded to record a new album after a run-through of a fresh composition, "Carouselambra."

A book as exhaustive as Evenings with Led Zeppelin is also exhausting to read. One would be hard-pressed to read Evenings with Led Zeppelin in its entirety from cover to cover. There's also significant competition for the dollar of Zeppelin fans this year. Evenings with Led Zeppelin is one of seven (!) books released in 2018 to commemorate the group's 50th anniversary. They include (deep breath): Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond-The Story of Rock's Greatest Manager by esteemed rock journalist Mark Blake, an updated version of Stephen Davis's controversial and heavily disputed biography Hammer of the Gods, an updated version of Mick Wall's blockbuster biography When Giants Walked the Earth, plus two photography books, Led Zeppelin-Live Times by Robert Ellis and Led Zeppelin Live: 1975-1977 edited by Dave Lewis. (Yes, the same Lewis who-coauthored Evenings with Led Zeppelin also somehow found time to compile the second book as well as edit his long-running Zep fanzine Tight but Loose.)

But of all these releases, it's Evenings with Led Zeppelin that has accomplished the impossible: It's upstaged Led Zeppelin itself. The group's official new photo book, Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin, is a beautifully bound and curated pictorial history. But fans will probably look at it once and shelve it. By contrast, the pages of Evenings with Led Zeppelin will become well-worn over time. Recent legal filings suggest that Led Zeppelin may be planning to release its own concert streaming service. If so, Evenings with Led Zeppelin will prove an indispensable guide to navigating the recordings on offer. In the meantime, it's going to be a bible for every bootleg collector. The book stands as a remarkable piece of rock-music scholarship. It may even inspire fans of other notable performing artists to emulate its structure and scope.

If you order a copy, be sure that your book shelf has a sturdier spine than your beleaguered package delivery man.


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May 8th 2019

I’m the greatest Ice Zeppelin fan in the world. I heard several of their compositions, and “Stairway to Heave” made the greatest impression on me. For a very long time I was sure that the vocalist was “black”, until they explained to me that this was not the case. They were true masters of their art; it was they who taught me to strive to gain inner freedom. I always write my college essay at https://vortexessay.com/ about this legendary group. I have never concealed that it was thanks to Led Zeppelin that I became a student.