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Cool the Explosives! Led Zeppelin: Live in Chicago 4/6/77


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I write this to commemorate the 1977 Led Zeppelin U.S. Tour. To honor the Zeppelin legacy, and give an insight into the shows I experienced.

 The date is Wednesday, April 6th, 1977. Led Zeppelin are to open tonight at the Chicago Stadium, in the first of a series of four shows. To give reference, I had just turned 17 a week prior and was a devout and rabid Zeppelin freak. My Zeppelin collection was rapidly building, including several bootlegs. The film The Song Remains The Same had just popped in October 1976. So I was very aware of their live capabilities.

 Purchasing tickets for the shows was a story in itself. My friends and I decided to sleep overnight at the local Flipside, which was the Ticketron outlet. It was extreme. It was the 1970's. When the tickets went on sale, it became a literal war! Broken doors, shattered glass, fighting and fainting girls! I used my football skills to emerge 10th in line at the ticket dispenser. I was rewarded with Box Seats - Club Circle. The seats I possessed provided a total and unobstructed view of the complete stage. Raised seats just above the main floor. Yes, there is a God!

  It was a cold evening the night of the April 6th show. The Chicago Stadium was in a very rough part of town and you had to be on your toes. The t-shirt hawkers were out in full force so I nabbed two real fine Zeppelin shirts. As I entered the facility, I could barely contain myself. There was Jimmy's speaker cabinet with the ZoSo symbol! Bonham had a new and beautiful gold metallic kit, waiting in ready, high atop his riser. The stage appeared sharp and clean with banks of lights and the P.A. hung aerially.

 I found my seats and then wandered up the main floor aisle where the lighting man sat. This guy greatly resembled Keith Emerson. His eyes were red, glazed and glassy.  I asked him about the set. He informed me Rock + Roll would not be the opener. It's going to be The Song Remains The Same. He added that Page was doing a wild version of Dazed and Confused with special lighting effects. As I walked back to my seat, toilet paper rolls flew off the balconies amid a blue-grey haze from the sweet smoke. Just as I sat in my seat the lights were cut. 

  Showtime! Pandemonium ensued. It's fucking Zeppelin!  I added my own banshee wail to the moment. The spotlight hits Robert Plant. The firecrackers ignite  prompting Robert to exclaim " Woa! Woa! Woa! Before we start can you please stop the firecrackers!" Just then Jimmy Page appears, turned toward Bonham . He's in white satin with a dragon design on his shirt's back. No design on his satin pants. Those were added later in the tour. As Page faces the audience I see him with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He's pacing with nervous energy. Up until that point I had never seen a photo of Jimmy smoking. I was surprised.

 Page is strapped up with his doubleneck. The opening D- note is struck, the full spotlight hits Jimmy and it's off to the races.  On one knee, Jimmy slides over to Jonesy and JPJ  bows his bass toward Pagey. Robert's throwing moves and shapes in front of Page's Marshalls as Bonzo unleashes his percussive fury. This rendition is very solid. Robert's voice sounds very clear and strong. Jimmy's a little sticky on some notes and Bonham plays on too long at the end bit. Which did mess up the segue to The Rover. It came off somewhat disjointed.  Colored light changes punctuate the four opening chord strikes of Sick Again. As the song kicks in, I notice their doing it in a slower and funkier arrangement. Page's solo crawls out of the stew. Short and fiery. The ending is on the money.  The strong ending elicits a wild audience response. Robert then reiterates to the crowd- " Cool the explosives!" Adding that the last time they played Chicago was 1973. I thought to myself. That isn't correct. It was 1975.

 The harmonized opening lick of Nobody's Fault But Mine soars across the Stadium. Now on the Les Paul, Page's E7 th chord overhang and arm sweep captivating the masses. As Page and Plant play in unison. Bonham and Jones are backlit with spotlights as they play their counterpoint rhythm. Hot Stuff!  But, Robert's harmonica solo is indecipherable and Jimmy's lead bears no relation to the studio version.The solos sound very early tour. Damn.

   In My Time Of Dying slithers out of Page's Danelectro as the concert progresses. There are some real problems with this one tonight. The missed breaks are glaringly obvious. During the fast part they kept trying to find a way out of it. Slop. Robert then goes into a homily about Chicago Blues legends Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters.

  Blue light solely envelopes Page as he picks out the intro of Since I've Been Loving You. Crystalline notes that were chilling! Robert sounding much better than 1975. Fuck it! I'm going to the front! I start my trudge up to the stage. I was evasive and agile, my adrenaline surging as I approached the stage barrier. There were people shooting photos , so I nestled in with them. Right in front of me is Jimmy Page blasting out the climactic solo of SIBLY . High register notes to discordant low bends.  John Bonham kicking it in his tuxedo t- shirt. My chest cavity being pummeled by the force of the band. Plant hollers out- " Jimmy Page! Guitar!"

 Directly in front of me, Jimmy acknowledges the crowd as he sits on Bonham's drum riser drinking a Heineken. Robert introduces Jonesy as " The most debonair member of the band. He can speak two languages. Featuring John Paul Jones on keyboard.. No Quarter!" Page stands up and walks over to his theramin. He throws a karate chop in front of it emitting a sonic Woop! Woop! The dry ice filters in, shrouding the first 15 rows. Jonesy in emerald light plays the opening theme. Page and Bonham fall in powerfully. Jimmy's wah wah piercing through it all. Jones hints at Rachmaninov, as green lasers flutter behind him. As JPJ  does his solo, Jimmy and Robert are 20 feet from me. They were having a drink and chatting near Page's theramin. They seem to be laughing about something. Then it's on to the main improv guitar solo. Jones plays the transition as Bonzo lays into a mid tempo feel.  Seeing Pagey so close, jabbing at chords as his body reflected every note he emitted. Switching pick ups to emphasize tone shifts and dynamics. He was dancing, slashing and hypnotizing. At the solo's finale, I'm shooed out of the front and return to my seat. As I walk back, the last notes of No Quarter expire. What an experience!

   Robert admits to some band rustiness when he introduces Ten Years Gone - " This is a thing that we never did until 3 weeks ago. And we're still running through it. As we are through everything." Out comes the now famous Telecaster B- Bender. Page twangs out a few notes.  JPJ plays 12- string acoustic. Not yet in ownership of his triple- neck. Bass pedals at his feet. Jimmy and Jonesy are loud and full, crashing out the melodic riff.  Even more powerful as Bonham enters. Page's middle solo is a mess. Missed and clanging notes. Robert sounds fantastic on this song!  Great choice Guys!

  Bonham strolls out from behind his kit. Plant announces - " To the front of the stage for the 1st time. John Bonham. Looking very suave. In his 2- piece tuxedo."  Four chairs are set up as the Zeppelin take their seats. But the monitors are feeding back and JPJ's guitar is out of tune. There'a a lull in the action to fix matters, and the crowd does become restless. Jimmy , now on mandolin, strums out the opening notes of Battle of Evermore. It was a riveting performance, especially the swirling jam.

The monitor system from hell continues to plague the acoustic set. Robert is now clearly agitated - " We have an acoustic guitar on this number gents. So turn the bloody thing up! Last time we played here I remember the night very well, cause I'd got the flu and nearly died. And, the monitors were so bad they were doing just what they're doing now. Get it Right!!!"

 Going To California is superlative. Conjuring images of tranquil and beautiful hillsides. The Minstrels at play. A magic moment.

  Robert teases with a bit of Elvis' Surrender. He then spiels about the Black Country describing it as - "The land where men are men and sheep are nervous!' Page then provides a classic moment as he leans into his microphone and drolly states - "  It's better to live one day as a king than a 1,000 as a peasant." JPJ brings out a bizarre looking stand- up bass for the Black Country Woman / Bron- Yr Aur Stomp combination. Bonzo's back on skins and Jimmy displays some fine fingerpicking during his solo turn.

  More equipment woes precede White Summer/ Black Mt. Side. And, the song itself is an utter shambles. Audibly out of tune, Jimmy makes a game of it.  He chases himself trying to retune as the song progresses! Able to regroup, the seated Page plucks out a few more notes, kicks out of his wooden chair and then....

   Kashmir! From one spotlight on Page to every light in the rig, the Stadium exploded in heat and light. Huge spinning globes above the stage showering light shards over us. Robert confidently projecting as the Golden God! Page as the Whirling Dervish propelled by Bonham's cannon shots. I will never forget during the coda, on one of Bonzo's final flurries, Jimmy stutter- stepping his way across the length of the stage. From JPJ's side to his side. Arms outstretched and his mouth agape in some euphoric state. Indelible.

   A beach ball bounces above the main floor. Playfully, Robert comments - " A soccer match!"

 Plants ominously introduces Over The Top: " We've been here 3 or 4 days and he hasn't been to jail yet." It's the Out On The Tiles riff and into Bonzo's Barrage! I had a straight shot at him as I looked through my binoculars. The cat would not let up! His drum kit motored out to the front of the stage for the Hands solo and Phased Tympani segment. During his big build up before the band returns, I saw Jimmy standing by his amp watching in amazement. Bonzo turned and looked at Pagey. You could literally feel the head of steam that Bonham was generating! I can still see it. You must hear this version! The crowd went nuts as Bonzo soaked it in. He had big smile and gave a hand wave.

  Onto Jimmy's Noise Symphony. What can I say? What I did say was ' Where the fuck is Dazed and Confused?" It was a big disappointment for me. I thought, Dazed and Confused represented so much of their power, fluidity and mystery. I was shocked they didn't play it! Between the harmonizer solo and the violin bow it was like a white noise experiment. The laser pyramid was visually spectacular. Bonham rumbles around his phased tympani and a wash of sound leads into the first tentative notes of Achilles Last Stand. This song did not come off well at all this evening. Sloppy playing that gets worse as the song progresses. An atrocious solo by Mr. Page. It's as though he forgot how to play the song!

  Now the set closer, Stairway To Heaven begins and is performed faithfully. Just as Bonzo joins in, Jimmy's guitar strap breaks. Ray Thomas dashes out and attends to Jimmy. The solo kicks into gear as golden light shimmers off Page's white suit and Robert grooves with his tambourine. The compact lead gives way to Robert's pleading vocal lines and the final title lyric. Brilliant white light hits a huge spinning globe as the band head off stage. A several minute wait at least before they return.

    Encore time. The band reappear and Bonzo begins Rock + Roll. Major explosions ignited onstage give off tangible heat. Jimmy's lead is loud and errant. A big bang ending. Rah! Offstage once again for several minutes before one more.

 Push! Push! It's Trampled Under Foot! The fucking loudest song of the evening. Page had his amp on 11. Jones and Bonham were slamming . Jimmy's solo was absolutely blistering. Peeling off licks with conviction. Robert and Jimmy as one doing their Push Push bit had everyone rocking. A great finale!

   So concludes the first show in Chicago. It was beautiful, inconsistent, mind blowing , sloppy and sublime all in one show. I'd love to see them again. That's right! There's tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow...........................

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That is some crazy detail, but if I was ever to see them I think I would remember everything too, nice read.
Thanks for the positive feedback guys. Seeing Zeppelin 4 times in 5 days, those memories are seared into my consciousness. It's equivalent to being exposed to radioactivity. It stays with you!
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I never read anything before about -bonham's drum riser moving to the front of the stage on -over the top... cool. Another great read, thanks for sharing the experience. You needed football skills to buy the tickets huh... kind of the opposite of the 02 show, with one needing mostly luck.

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