Monday, September 7, 2009

Live debut

On this day in 1968, the members of Led Zeppelin made their live debut together, performing under the name "The Yardbirds" to a crowd of about 1,000 teens and pre-teens at a school gymnasium located in Copenhagen, Denmark.

It was a Saturday, and the group was performing two gigs that day. The second was elsewhere in the area, at another gymnasium frequented by that same age group.

Robert Plant and John Bonham, Led Zeppelin's two youngest members, were 20 years old. In the middle was John Paul Jones at age 22. The oldest, Jimmy Page, was 24.

He'd played in Scandinavia before. The second venue they played that day, the Brøndby Pop Club, was familiar to Page as he'd been there in April 1967 with the Yardbirds. It was that band that most of the audience had expected to see, but there was apparently some pre-show buzz that these weren't the real Yardbirds.

To them, it was only their latest guitarist with a new singer along with some other new guys, using the name to blow through Scandinavia. If they were any good, nobody knew it. They were just hoping not to be let down by the only British band sharing the bill with some Danish groups.

Well, there's no indication anybody who attended that night was disappointed. Any fans expecting quirky frontman Keith Relf on vocals and harmonica with the Yardbirds were surprised to see a different singer -- one who danced funny and portrayed faces of anguish and torture.

So unfamiliar to the locals was this extroverted singer that even a newspaper reporter mistakenly called him "Robert Planto" in a review of the second show that printed four days later in Denmark's Glostrup Handelsblat. According to a popular translation, the reviewer complained that this singer was unnecessarily opting "to twist his body like he's having a ruptured appendix."

Photo from Led Zeppelin's first performance by Jørgen Angel Photography

The band provided subtle and delicate hints of some visual trademark characteristics that would soon brand them uniquely as Led Zeppelin, some of which are evidenced in black-and-white shots of the first performance taken by 16-year-old house photographer Jørgen Angel, who today sells those photos online.

As we see in the shots, Jones joined Page in wearing some ruffled garb to show numero uno. Plant's extremely agitated facial expressions went with the music as he shook about. Bonham, who was much more svelte in physique at age 20 than he would appear in his latter days, pounded on the skins with reckless abandon to the point of being drenched in sweat. Page pulled out a famous stage trick of his involving a violin bow across the fretted strings of his boldly colored Fender 1958 Telecaster.

Scant jam sessions over the previous month must have been very productive. The band had worked up a repertoire lasting about 40 minutes long. While little is documented about what songs were played that day, the band is thought to have opened with "Train Kept A-Rollin'," and also played "I Can't Quit You Baby," "Dazed and Confused," "You Shook Me" and a blues song known in its original lyric as "How Many More Years."

Additionally, a review of the second show proclaims that Bonham's drum solo ought to have gone on forever, so the band was probably playing the instrumental known as "Pat's Delight" -- which, like the later "Moby Dick," started off with a guitar-bass riff, segued into a drum solo, and ended again with a guitar-bass riff.

Those of us who were not there to witness the first Led Zeppelin shows have some ways to estimate what it would have sounded like. Understandably, since the band was booked as a supporting act, their live sets, at 40 minutes each, were curt compared to the two- and three-hour spectacles they would soon be divulging as a famous headlining act.

The photographer, Jørgen Angel, has detailed some of his personal memories for the Led Zeppelin fanzine Kashmir, and the transcript of that interview is reproduced online. In addition, a few Danish newspaper articles covering the event have preserved other aspects for all time, providing the only firsthand written accounts of the shows at the time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Users agree to avoid posting profanity and defamatory comments.