Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kitchener Nov 4, 1969

[caption id="attachment_174" align="alignright" width="144" caption="This as began appearing Oct. 11, indicating the show had been booked approximately four weeks before the show"]img002[/caption]

In November 1969, Led Zeppelin was a young rising band. Their first album, released in January of 1969, went to number 11 in the Canadian album charts. They toured North America relentlessly, including 3 stops in Toronto, beginning their fourth American tour on October 17, five days before the release of their second album. That second album would reach number one worldwide and launch Led Zeppelin into the 1970s, the decade in which they would dominate the rock world. The only single from Led Zeppelin II, Whole Lotta Love, would go on to reach number 4 in the Billboard charts and become one of rock's ubiquitous classics. Led Zeppelin was on the rise, and Kitchener Ontario, population approximately 100,000, would have an opportunity to see Led Zeppelin before they became too big for shows in front of 2,000 people.

"Jimmy Page is Led Zeppelin." So begins the K-W Records Jim Clements in reviewing Led Zeppelin's Nov 4, 1969 show. The concert was performed to a less than full house of 2,000 fans, mostly university students. Iron Butterfly had played the week before at University of Waterloo, and $4.00 and $5.00 for tickets was considered high for the time. The show was shorter than usual Led Zeppelin fare: drummer John Bonham was ailing, and his showpiece Moby Dick was missing from the set list, as was Jimmy Page's Indian themed solo White Summer/Black Mountain Side due to a blown amplifier. Singer Robert Plant was having voice problems as well. The three issues combined meant the usual 90 minute set was a 45 minute affair.

For all the above, reviews of the evening were positive, noting the skill of the musicians, Page's virtuosity ("he stuns and amazes..." says Dave Fairfield), Plant's vocal counterpart and solid back beat of the rhythm section. The crowd was "with it..." according to Jimmy Page, calling for an encore despite the problems the band encountered. Kitchener Memorial Arena was a less than perfect acoustic environment, yet the set up was done "in such a way that everyone could see and hear the performance."

[caption id="attachment_173" align="alignleft" width="116" caption="Jimmy Page with his sunburst Les Paul"]img001[/caption]

An enthusiastic audience is hardly surprising. Led Zeppelin would go on to become very well known for their outstanding live shows and from the very first shows they were noted as exceptional. Yet their was little of the shows in late 1969 that would resemble the Led Zeppelin concerts that the band would become so well known for. Granted, Jimmy Page had replaced his paisley telecaster guitar with a sunburst Les Paul as his main stage instrument. The guitar, sold to him by Joe Walsh, is the one he would use to define what rock guitarists should look like, and be immortalized in Paul McCartney's Rock Show. But little else would be familiar to those who saw Led Zeppelin even a year or two later. The set list was dominated by songs that would soon be gone: Good Times Bad Tomes, Communication Breakdown, I Can't Quit You Babe, What is and What Should Never Be, How Many More Times. All would cease to be performed in the near future. Whole Lotta Love, not yet in their set list, would become a vital component to the Led Zeppelin experience within a month.

Noted in later years for his strong stage presence, on this night Page, "rarely took his eyes from the guitar long enough to look at the audience." Stage clothes in 1969 lacked the pizazz of later years, Page appearing in Kitchener in jeans and a peach t-shirt, Plant in jeans and white t-shirt with black logo. Page was at this stage, however, playing his guitar with a violin bow, a holdover from his days with the Yardbirds and a showpiece of Led Zeppelin shows from their first show through to their last performances in 1980.

[caption id="attachment_175" align="alignright" width="126" caption="The ad changed the day of the concert"]img003[/caption]

If you saw Led Zeppelin in Kitchener on November 4, 1969, you saw a Led Zeppelin vastly different from the band who travel the world by private jet in a few short years. Two years away from Stairway to Heaven the music was much more raw, the performance much less polished. But you also saw a hungry band of talented musicians, paying their dues, giving an undoubtedly powerful performance. If you saw Led Zeppelin in 1969, you saw them when it was virtually the last chance to see them in an intimate environment. Beginning early 1970, they would play major halls and arenas, and never return to smaller venues.

1 comment:

James Ayres said...

Nice piece and some good research. I hate to be picky, but they did return to small venues later on - they did a 'return to the clubs' tour in the UK in 1971, but that was just the UK.