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Best/Worst Live Years For Each Member

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Everybody has their high points and low points, and it's clear that the live skills of each member tend to vary over their career (While it could be argued that Plant's vocals gradually got worse over time, it could be argued that Bonham's drumming got more versatile over time too). 

I know it's an oddly specific question, but as an individual who still has yet to really sink his teeth into later (post '72) concert recordings, I figure it would be interesting to hear what more seasoned fans have to say about how each member changed over time. 

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For Page, I'd say 1973 was his best year. Specifically the spring European tour. He really was incredibly fluid during that tour, never really hitting a bum note anywhere. Plus, this is the year where his No Quarter solos were all consistently good. See this thread for more discussion. In terms of his worst year, I'd say 1980. Even in the best shows of the tour (Zurich, Frankfurt), his playing doesn't really stand out that much. It varies from decent to dreadful (just listen to White Summer from the final show in Berlin).

For Plant, I'd say without question his best year was 1970. In 1969, his voice had a slightly greater range, but he hadn't yet learned how to control it. This resulted in his performances being up and down, not just from show to show, but from moment to moment. But in 1970, he learned how to control it, and knocked it out of the park consistently. See Montreux, Bath, and the evening show at MSG to see what I'm talking about. He was consistently amazing throughout the whole year. In fact, I've only heard one bad performance from him this whole year (4/18/70), where he had to talk his way through the latter half of the set. The good news is that the rest of that tour was immediately cancelled to rest his voice (something that should have been done more often, imo).

Plant's worst year is undoubtedly 1975. He caught the flu at the very beginning of the tour, and for the first leg, he sounds painful. In the second leg, his voice improves, but he still has problems throughout the year, even at his best shows for this year (ex. 3/21/75, 5/18/75).

As for Bonham's best year, I'd say 1977. He's amazing during the 73 Euro tour, battling it out with Page every night. But during the UK tour and the US tour immediately preceding and following that run, he's a little more reserved by comparison. In 1977, it was frequently Bonzo who held the band together (see 5/21/77). He really seemed to play interesting fills during this year that he wouldn't play later. Explosive is the word I'd use for his drumming during this time. The LA run, especially the first three shows (6/21-6/23) are especially amazing and are highly recommended. As with Page, I'd say his worst year is 1980. His playing there ranges from average (by his standards) to pedestrian.

With Jones, it gets tricky. He was easily the most consistent member of the band, and you'd be hard pressed to find a song where he fucks up, let alone a whole show. I'll let others weigh in on him, because I honestly have no idea where to start.

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Great Insight (that's true about Plant too, while I prefer '69, I do agree he shows a lot more skill in '70, especially in the HMMT/WLL medleys). Yeah, It's definitely a bit harder to assess Jones (I don't think I've ever heard him fuck up the bass riff during the chorus of Immigrant Song once, which is commendable as that riff is carpal tunnel city), but oddly enough, I found one of his more standout performances was during the last performance ever of "Whole Lotta Love" where he just jams with Bonham (like I said, I'm not too well-versed in '80 shows, but I've had Berlin on vinyl for about a year now, and that whole lotta love is the highlight of the whole show for me). 

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Jones is not "out front" like the rest of the band, but he has the hardest job, he has to make sure that Jimmy, Robert and John's wailing away remains a "song".  I can't remember any show where JPJ has an off night!

Page is pretty amazing 69-73 with late 72 to early (Germany) '73 being a peak.

Plant is in total control of his vocal gifts from about '70 to '72, during this time he sets the standard for the Rock Front Man.

Bonham is a little more consistent until '80 when he seems to lose interest...

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tmtomh   

Agree with much of what's been written here. I will only add a few thoughts:

Page: Parts of '77 definitely rank with '80 as a low point for him IMHO. On the other hand, 3 or the 4 1979 gigs find him in very good form, and the two Copenhagen warm-ups in particular are excellent shows, including his playing.

Plant: Given how awful 1975 was for him, he's actually not bad on most of the Earls Court tapes, and his voice is in shocking good shape on many of the 1977 tapes.

Bonham: Agree, 1980 was the one (and pretty much only) mediocre/uninspired period for him.

Jones: Also agree he was the most consistent of the group. I will say, however, that 1977 and 1980 are the closest he comes lows for me, not for performance reasons (although he does play his part in the band's seemingly inability to get through Kashmir without a mistake in 1980) - but rather for sonic reasons. IN 1977 he switched to the alembic bass, which sounds just awful on every soundboard and audience source; and the move from mellotron to electric piano and synthesizers sounds particularly cheesy on those 1980 soundboards.

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1 hour ago, tmtomh said:

Agree with much of what's been written here. I will only add a few thoughts:

Page: Parts of '77 definitely rank with '80 as a low point for him IMHO. On the other hand, 3 or the 4 1979 gigs find him in very good form, and the two Copenhagen warm-ups in particular are excellent shows, including his playing.

Plant: Given how awful 1975 was for him, he's actually not bad on most of the Earls Court tapes, and his voice is in shocking good shape on many of the 1977 tapes.

Bonham: Agree, 1980 was the one (and pretty much only) mediocre/uninspired period for him.

Jones: Also agree he was the most consistent of the group. I will say, however, that 1977 and 1980 are the closest he comes lows for me, not for performance reasons (although he does play his part in the band's seemingly inability to get through Kashmir without a mistake in 1980) - but rather for sonic reasons. IN 1977 he switched to the alembic bass, which sounds just awful on every soundboard and audience source; and the move from mellotron to electric piano and synthesizers sounds particularly cheesy on those 1980 soundboards.

Good points. Page is pretty damn inconsistent in 77, that's for sure. What made it just miss being the worst year for me is that Page still has the occasional night where he's on point. A good example is 6/22. That has one of his best (if not his best) OTHAFA solos ever, imo. When it comes to 1980, I can't really think of any show (or even moment) where I went "my God, that was an amazing solo!" even though he still had some decent nights.

I also have to agree with you about Jones' alembic. That's the main reason why I hate the 77 soundboards. The alembic is way too twangy and harsh and it just sticks out like a sore thumb. I'm sure it sounded great in person, but on soundboards, it's just bleh. Same with the 80 synths. Honestly, Kashmir is the only song I can think of that he ever truly screwed up. 6/23/77 and 6/29/80 are two prominent examples. The former is amusing (given how the rest of the song, indeed the whole concert, is great), but the latter is just embarrassing. I honestly thought it was a cut in the tape the first time I heard that! What a mess! :lol:

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Plant: Best '71-'72 Worst: '80

Page: Best '72-'73 I don't really think he had a bad year, but he was a bit sloppy in '79-'80

Jones/Bonham: Please...those guys were always hitting on all cylinder, imho.

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I'd say that Bonham pretty much kept getting better at least until '77.  '79 he's still pretty stellar (see "Achilles Last Stand" from the DVD (8/4/79)), though probably not better than '77.  1980 is the only year I think you could consider to be an "off" year for him, although even then, that's only in comparison to his former self, not to other drummers.

The only exception to this more-or-less steady improvement on his part is the really fast bass drum work prominent on the first album especially and the tours in '69 & '70.  I find that if you stop practicing that aspect of your "game" regularly, you lose it pretty quickly.

Overall, I think physical issues and injuries notwithstanding, all four of them did a pretty good job of adding some new facet to their "game" each year, as all great professional athletes do--unlike my second-favourite band, The Rolling Stones :lol:

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