Nice article from an Alabama site about Zeppelin's three shows in Alabama. Surprised they didn't mention Page playing a little bit of Dixie in Birmingham.
When Led Zeppelin rocked Alabama: '70s concerts revisited
They drove to the Led Zeppelin concert in David Burks' gold 1966 Chevelle Super Sport muscle car. Burks, then 17, was behind the wheel and the only person in the vehicle not getting high as he and two of his Ensley High School classmates traveled to Tuscaloosa on May 10, 1973 to see Zeppelin perform at Memorial Coliseum that evening.
The show would be the first of only three concerts the British hard-rock band would ever play in Alabama during the group's 12-year career. Tuscaloosa was the fourth date on Zep's tour to promote their fifth studio album, "Houses of the Holy," which found the quartet expanding their bluesy heavy sound with exotic and orchestral shades, on such songs as "The Song Remains the Same" and "Dancing Days." The tour began with an Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium concert attended by more than 50,000 fans. Back when the Tuscaloosa concert had been first announced, Burks was more into The Beatles and Motown music.
"'Zeppelin? Who the hell's Zeppelin?'" Burks, now a US Steel employee in Fairfield, recalls thinking. "I didn't really know that much about them and my friends were like, 'Oh no, you're going. You can't miss this.' At that time, there were a lot of shows coming to the coliseum."
Burks and his two friends were among the 15,000 or 16,000 other fans who filled Memorial Coliseum, now known as Coleman Coliseum, for the Zeppelin show. Tickets were $5. In a 1973 Tuscaloosa News review of the concert, reporter Jim Salem wrote "Inside the coliseum it must have been 100 degrees, with so much moisture that it was practically raining." Some 44 years later, Burks doesn't remember the temperature being that high, "but the reason would be that my attention was so drawn to that stage."
The band opened the show with their metallic rockabilly number "Rock and Roll." On the Memorial Coliseum stage that night, golden god Zep frontman Robert Plant wore religion-revealing bellbottom jeans and an open, frilly blouse. Guitarist Jimmy Page was clad in white pants and black top, exuding dark charisma with a low-slung Les Paul. Burks recalls the entire band being "very on" that night and that drummer John Bonham's signature drum solo "Moby Dick" was "off the chain." Burks is a longtime drummer himself and currently plays with Birmingham blues-rockers Todd Simpson and Mojo Child. He says seeing Zep's '73 Tuscaloosa show "changed my life." He now owns a Ludwig Vistalite drumset similar to what Bonham played on that tour. Multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones performed his keyboard parts for doomy psychedelic song "No Quarter" submerged in a dramatic fog, from dry ice effects.
In the days before MTV, home video players and YouTube, being in the same room with a huge band, particularly one with Zeppelin's mystique, made for an especially charged experience, Burks says. "The crowd was heavily into it. Everybody was psyched because Zeppelin was finally coming to Alabama." Burks and his friends were on the right side of the stage, "up a good ways but great seats." Led Zeppelin's setlist that night included such songs as "Over the Hills and Far Away," "Misty Mountain Hop," "Rain Song" and "Dazed and Confused." Burks recalls the quick transition between riff rockers "Heartbreaker" and "Whole Lotta Love" late in the set being especially thrilling. "The whole room lifted about three feet." The band's 1973 stage show was captured on celluloid for the concert film "The Song Remains the Same" released three years later and Burk says the look and sound of the band onstage in Tuscaloosa was like that depicted in the movie, which was taped at the tour's concluding shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. Mirrorballs. Lasers. Etc.
Three days after Led Zeppelin's Tuscaloosa show, the band performed at Mobile's Municipal Auditorium, where Mary Bates LeGault was in the audience of 11,000 or so. Then a bank employee in her mid-20s, LeGault had previously seen Zeppelin perform when she lived in the Los Angeles area during the late-60s and early-70s. But she says the group's three-hour Mobile show was the loudest concert she ever witnessed. Tickets were five bucks. LeGault attended the show along with her then-husband, and another couple, Allen and Melissa Slater, with whom she remains close to this day. Melissa was pregnant at the time of the Zep concert. "And she could feel the baby moving," LeGault recalls. "I don't know if that was the noise but she was pretty active. Sharing something like that with close friends, it's a memory that we have for a long time. We were in the balcony. It was like the auditorium was pulsating. [Laughs] It was fantastic for Mobile for (Led Zeppelin) to come here. It was a great concert." The Mobile show, drawing from a setlist very similar to Tuscaloosa's, has been issued on bootleg recordings under various titles such as "Upwardly Mobile," "Mobile Dick," "Alabama Getaway" and "Goin' Mobile." A Mobile Register reviewer bemoaned Zeppelin's performance as "dull" but admitted the group "hit a peak with 'Stairway to Heaven,' a reasonably complex, very lovely piece," referring to the band's signature eight-minute power-ballad. The same review also allowed that "Robert Plant is a fine vocalist, and the rest of the band is more than competent."
LeGault remains a big Zeppelin fan - her favorite track by the band is "All My Love" from the group's final studio LP, 1979's "In Through the Out Door" - and still owns all her original Zep vinyl LPs. She purchased a tour program at the 1973 Mobile concert. She's unsure of the program's current whereabouts though. LeGault passed-on a fondness for the group's music to her daughter and then her oldest grandson. "It's just amazing they liked music we grew up on. I've always loved Led Zeppelin - still do."
Zeppelin wouldn't perform in Alabama again until four years later, during the 1977 tour promoting their seventh studio disc, "Presence," which was anchored by the 10-minute epic "Achilles Last Stand." Greg Screws was then a student at Morgan County High School, which is now Hartselle High School. The morning of Zep's May 18, 1977 show at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, Screws' senior class had their graduation walk through, "so we were crazy excited," he recalls. By age 17, Screws had already seen 25 or so concerts, mostly in Birmingham and Huntsville, including Aerosmith, Yes, Kansas and Foghat. "But me and my buddies, we never really thought we would see Zeppelin," says Screws, now a news anchor with CBS affiliate WHNT-19 in Huntsville.
Led Zeppelin opened the '77 BJCC show with a majestic "The Song Remains The Same," Page emitting sheets of sound from his double-neck Gibson. Screws and his friends were standing about 25 feet back into the audience out from center stage. Page and Plant oozed a larger-than-life presence. "I spent most of the first few songs with my jaw just on the floor," Screws says. "They did 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' and 'In My Time of Dying.' Those were three of the first four songs. If you had told me that was the last show I was ever going to see, at that point I would have told you, 'OK.'" Screws recalls "No Quarter" being another highlight and an acoustic set including the folky "Battle of Evermore," with Page on mandolin. The drum solo that night was a little too much though. "Bonham was fantastic but it just went on and on...and on....and on. It was crazy. It seemed like it went for 20, 25 minutes."
Page's guitar solo provided the most vivid memory of the night for Screws. "It was blues, it was rock, it was abstract, it was subtle, it was thunderous. It was everything you would think a Jimmy Page solo would be. But it was the middle of a pyramid of green lasers and he started doing the thing he does with the (violin) bow, and he would hit the guitar strings (with the bow) and the laser pyramid would turn. And toward the end he just started sort of doodling on the strings and slipped into the beginning of 'Achilles Last Stand.' I've seen a lot of shows. I've seen a lot of people. But Zeppelin doing 'Achilles Last Stand,' I've never seen anything better or more stunning. It's hard to describe."
Dennis Anderson, then a junior at Pleasant Grove High School, was also in the BJCC crowd that night. He'd purchased about a dozen $8.50 tickets, thinking he would scalp most of them to make his own ticket cost back and a nice profit. But apparently lots of other people had a similar plan. Since he wanted to be close to the stage for Zeppelin's BJCC show, which was general admission seating, he ended up throwing six of his tickets onto the ground outside the venue. At the time, Anderson had been a Zeppelin fan for about five years. They were his favorite band and the group's 1975 double LP "Physical Graffiti" his top album. He'd had the opportunity to see Zep's '73 Tuscaloosa concert but his mom wouldn't let him go. "She said I was too young to do that," says Anderson, now 57 and a former construction and mill worker. "So of course when they announced they were coming in '77 there was nothing that was going to keep me from it."
That night in Birmingham, Anderson recalls there being a "definite party atmosphere outside the place before we went in, a lot of college aged kids and teenagers." Anderson and his date and another couple made it to about 10 feet in front of the stage, in front of a rail-thin, shaggy haired Page, who was wearing his white satin stage outfit that was emblazoned with images of poppies and a dragon. Anderson carried his date on his shoulders for much of the show. He recalls Jones playing a triple-neck acoustic guitar during the acoustic set and at one point was wearing a white hat. Bonham was "a machine" on the drums and Plant's vocals were "phenomenal," Anderson says. Like Screws, Anderson also found Page's laser pyramid engulfed guitar solo mesmerizing, and he recalls an incredible crowd response to opening number "The Song Remains the Same." "I remember vividly Plant saying 'From one Birmingham to another' and I thought that was so cool." (Plant is a native of the Birmingham, England area.) "They just blew me away," Anderson says. "And they just played all the songs I dreamed of hearing. We were speechless for like 45 minutes."
Not everyone who attended Zeppelin's Birmingham show remembers it so fondly. Burks says that '77 performance was a "big letdown" for him after seeing the'73 Tuscaloosa concert. "If nothing else they were in better shape and the years of the success and sex and drugs and all that stuff hadn't kicked in," Burks says. "It was four years later but the same energy wasn't coming off the stage, that's for sure." That said, a YouTube clip of 8mm fan-shot video shot at the '77 Birmingham concert depicts Zeppelin in fine, magnificent form, although other bootleg audio and video from this tour has revealed many less than glorious onstage moments. "Reading about the tour afterwards, I think we got really lucky," Screws says. "I feel fortunate to not only have seen them, but to catch as good a show as I did."
Besides the band's offstage lifestyle catching up to them onstage, Zeppelin's '77 tour was plagued by incidents of violence and was cut short after Plant's young son died in July after an illness. The trek would be the band's last ever in North America. On Sept. 24, 1980, after a day of rehearsals at Page's house, Bonham was found dead, having choked on his own vomit after a drinking binge in which the bear-like drummer consumed the equivalent of 40 shots of vodka. Led Zeppelin disbanded a few months later rather than carry on without their powerhouse percussionist.
Although the surviving Led Zeppelin musicians have reconvened a handful of times to perform at benefit concerts, often with Bonham's son Jason stepping in behind the kit, the band has never done a reunion tour. Of course, this has only stoked rumors of such every few years. In the '90s, Page and Plant did a couple of tours and albums as a duo, giving fans who missed out on the real deal a spoonful of the band's live magic.
Now 40 years after Led Zeppelin's last Alabama concert, rumors have once again begun to swirl the band will resume flight, at Indio, Calif.'s Desert Trip classic-rock mega-concert for a payday of more than $14 million. The latest rumors were set off just by Plant's website going dark except for the three words "Any time now ..." For many rational fans, this seems like a bit of a reach. But then again after Zep-influenced '80s hard-rockers Guns N' Roses pulled off the most unlikely reunion in music history last year to massive (and ongoing) business, anything seems possible at this point. And no doubt, millions of people ranging from the band's original fans to those fans' grandchildren would love to see Page, Plant, Jones and Jason Bonham conjure up Zeppelin's sorcery for one last victory lap. The band's dynamic and enduring music continues to transport listeners. The song really does remain the same.