It's no mystery that Led Zeppelin made America their second home, and most of their enormous tours took place there. In fact, in 1975, the announcement of their return to England for a few concerts at Earl's Court was a very big thing. The last time they played in UK was in January 1973, and in the meantime no less than two albums came out!
Many things have changed in these two years, and a couple of very important tours took place in the US. But let's start from the beginning...
1975 North American Tour
After the very long and complex working process that was necessary to complete Physical Graffity, with said album still unreleased due to various delays, in January 1975 Led Zeppelin embarked on another US tour. Their last concerts were back in 1973, so it had been a while. In the meantime Robert Plant had vocal chord surgery, and instead of resting his voice as advised, he recorded the new album. So, with pretty much everyone being a bit rusty, they decided to book a couple of shows in Europe to warm up (in Rotterdam and Brussels). These concerts were far from being perfect, and while ready to go to America, Jimmy Page broke his finger in a train door. On top of that, due to the very cold winter, Plant got a very bad flu which affected his voice for the rest of the year, and John Bonham had to fight some serious stomach problems during the tour.
The setlist of these first few concerts included songs like The Wanton Song, When The Levee Breaks and How Many More Times (temporarily in place of Dazed And Confused), either rarely played or not played in a long time, to accomodate Page's finger injury. These songs were then left off shortly afterwards, and the setlists became very similar to the ones in 1973, with just a few new songs added.
1975 US Tour average setlist
- Rock and Roll
- Sick Again
- Over the Hills and Far Away
- When the Levee Breaks (Dropped after 21 January)
- In My Time of Dying
- Since I've Been Loving You (only on 14 February, 21 March, and 27 March)
- The Song Remains the Same
- The Rain Song
- The Wanton Song (Dropped after 25 January)
- No Quarter
- Trampled Under Foot
- Moby Dick" (Bonham)
- How Many More Times (18 January to 2 February) / Dazed and Confused (3 February to 27 March)
- Stairway to Heaven
- Whole Lotta Love (including "The Crunge")
- Black Dog
- Adittional encores, played only on a few nights
- Communication Breakdown
Here is a Robert Plant interview shot in Brussels, just before leaving for the US tour. He talks about the new album, Physical Graffiti, and also the idea to do some big show in England that year, a bit like what they did in 1972 at the Empire Pool, which obviously will end up being the Earl's Court concerts.
The tour, despite the shaky start, had some very strong performances as it went on, with some standout concerts between February and March (Like New York 14/2, Baton Rouge 28/2, Long Beach 12/3, Vancouver 19/3 and Seattle 21/3) and ending with a three concert residency at the LA Forum between 24 and 27 March.
Back in England
After the US tour had ended, the idea was to bring their big show to England, in what was at the time the biggest concert venue: Earl's Court Exhibition Centre. The big stage that they had at the time, the lights, the lasers, the PA, all of that was impossibly expensive to drag around the UK, or even Europe, for a proper tour, so three dates were booked there: 23,24 and 25 May. They could go there, play for a large number of people, get payed, and then go away again before having to come to terms with England's high taxes (also one of the main reasons for them to stay abroad for most of the time).
Due to high demand (it seems that all tickets for the three dates were sold in around four hours), two further dates were added, on 17 and 18 May.
The posters for these shows became legendary, and the train drawn on them (called Zeppelin Express) was a way of saying that, despite all these concerts being in a single place, everyone could reach it easily by train.
Led Zeppelin arrived in England on the 10th of May, and began rehearsals at the Shepperton Studios. Despite some technical issues with lights and lasers due to differences in the electric voltage between England and the US, the band was in high spirits, and decided to add an acoustic set in the middle of the concert. The acoustic set had been part of their setlist between 1970 and early 1973, with different songs being part of it. In this specific case Going To California, That's The Way and Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp were chosen. This section was introduced by another new entry: an electric version of Tangerine, with its chorus sang by all of them with surprisingly beautiful four part harmonies. This song had been rarely played before, completely acoustic, between late 1971 and most of 1972, and it will never be played again.
Another very important feature for these concerts was the presence of two big screens at the side of the stage. It may be a common thing now, but back then it was the first time something like that was done in England. This is the reason why we have videos of a couple of these concerts, but we will talk more about this later.
Saturday, 17 May 1975
The first show was a strong start, but although their enthusiasm is palpable, the fire that they had in the last few US dates in March left space to an overall more organised performance, a bit less adventurous. The new acoustic set maybe needed a bit more rehearsals, and it will work much better in the subsequent nights, but overall it's a good concert. For some reason, despite having had nearly two months off, Robert Plant's voice is breaking all over the place again, likely because, flu or not, he still had to find a new way of singing after his operation back in '74, as he will eventually do in 1977.
The setlist tonight, as it will be for all nights but the last one, is as follows:
- Rock And Roll
- Sick Again
- Over The Hills And Far Away
- In My Time Of Dying
- The Song Remains The Same
- The Rain Song
- No Quarter
- Going To California
- That's The Way
- Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp
- Trampled Underfoot
- Moby Dick
- Dazed And Confused
- Stairway To Heaven
- Whole Lotta Love
- Black Dog
We have an audience recording of this concert, which is not perfect and, as many similar recordings done in the same venue, is very boomy. Nonetheless, is still listenable. DJ Bob Harris presents them this night.
Sunday, 18 May 1975
A much stronger show, and probably the best one of this residency. The band seems more relaxed, the setlist flows better and most songs are amongst the best versions of all these concerts. One of them is certainly No Quarter, closely followed by the whole acoustic set, in which we can clearly hear the beautiful harmonies on Tangerine and a wonderful vocal delivery by Plant in That's The Way. For some reason Jimmy Page decided to use his blue Fender Stratocaster on Over The Hills And Far Away, and it sounds vey good!
Again, all we have is an audience recording, but it's probably the best sounding one of the bunch, again a bit boomy but very atmospheric and at the same time pretty clear sounding. DJ Johnny Walker presents them tonight.
Friday, 23 May 1975
Another very strong show, just not as strong as the previous one. It certainly is a good night vocally for Robert Plant, and the whole band is on fire. Page brings out the blue Stratocaster again tonight, not just for Over The Hills And Far Away, but also for an incredible version of No Quarter. The Strat works very well on these two songs, and one can wonder why he didn't use it more often (although he used it a lot in the studio). We'll have to wait until 1979 for him to play it again on stage, even if just on In The Evening. Another highlight tonight is one of the heaviest versions of Kashmir, played slower than usual to make it sound even bigger and more epic, even if maybe some energy is lacking.
Another audience recording documents this show, with a similar sound quality to the other nights. DJ Kid Jensen presents them tonight.
Saturday, 24 May 1975
This is the first show of which we have a soundboard recording and a full video, so, together with the next one, is amogst the most famous Led Zeppelin concerts. However, while the atmosphere is there and it is great to actually see and hear them in such quality, the performance seems a bit too laid back here and there. Bonham in particular seems to be behind the others quite often (and probably the fact that the drums are quite low in the mix doesn't help), and it takes them quite a bit to warm up. That being said, the central part of the show is stellar, with a beautiful No Quarter, a powerful Trampled Underfoot and one of the best versions of Dazed And Confused, in which all the elements that were added in the last few years seem to flow perfectly, with a particularly eerie Woodstock section in place of the classic San Francisco, and a dark vibe that lurks all through its 35 minutes that is hard to put into words. A must hear.
As said above, we have both a full soundboard recording and a video of this show. DJ Nicky Horne presents them tonight.
Sunday, 25 May 1975
Clocking in at around 3 hours 45 minutes, it's one of the longest concerts Led Zeppelin ever played. There's more energy in tonight's performance, even if Plant's voice sounds tired. Page seems to give everything he has, and Bonham is back in full shape, while Jones, well, he is always an infallible rock. There are places in which the previous night was better, especially in Dazed And Confused (which, incidentally, is also at its last ever performance here), but what gives tonight that important extra push are the encores. After 3 hours and a half, they come back on stage for a very good version of Heartbreaker and a funny Communication Breakdown with a reggae interlude. A spectacular show, even with its flaws.
As with the 24th, we have both a soundboard recording and a video, with just a slight cut in the middle, but most of it it's there. DJ Alan Freeman presents them tonight.
What has been officially released
Back in 2003, when the Led Zeppelin DVD came out, it was a great event. For the first time some video footage by the band, cleaned and remastered, could be seen by everyboy. Most of the Royal Albert Hall show from 1970 is there, loads of TV appearances from 1969, a few outtakes from Madison Square Garden in 1973, and nearly and hour each from Earl's Court 1975 and Knebworth 1979. Both these last two cases were made up from footage of various nights compiled together, same as for the audio, but let's focus on Earl's Court in particular.
The video is 45 minutes and 46 seconds long, and it contains Going To California, That's The Way, Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp, In My Time Of Dying, Trampled Underfoot and Stairway To Heaven. Being intended for the big screens at the concerts, these videos mostly consist of close-up shots of the band, so there was no intention of releasing them as a proper film (even if, ironically, sometimes they are actually more satisfying to watch than most of The Song Remains The Same).
Let's see where these songs were taken from:
- Going To California is almost completely from the 25th, with just a few vocal bits edited in from the 24th.
- That's The Way is again almost completely from the 25th.
- Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp is again from the 25th, with a few vocal bits edited out, and another little bit taken from the 23rd.
- In My Time Of Dying: from the 24th, with a few bits edited out.
- Trampled Underfoot: mostly from the 25th, with a lot of editing done to the vocals, takin bits from either the 24th or the 23rd.
- Stairway To Heaven: again from the 25th, with a little correction at the end of the guitar solo (on that night Jimmy had to play the final notes an octave lower due to a broken string, but on this DVD that section sounds high as usual, and while the video doesn't change, the audio is surely from another night), and the ending bit with just Robert singing taken from the 24th.
- These two DVDs are full of little snippets of videos and audio in all the various menus. One example is the sub-menu of the Earl's Court section on DVD two, which features, on top of a video from Belfast 1971, the audio from Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp from 24/05/1975. Another example is on the Audio Options menu, again on DVD two, which features a video from Seattle, 21/03/1975, during the middle section of Whole Lotta Love, but the audio is taken from that same section of the Earl's Court performance from the 25th.
If you want to investigate more on these kind of things, I advise you to check out this wonderful website: http://www.thegardentapes.co.uk/index.html
So, judging by what we can see and hear, it's obvious that Page has both the final nights on video and multitrack, however some bits of audio seem to be taken from the 23rd of May, which leaves us wondering if there is also a multitrack recording of that night, or even a video. If that is so, being the 23rd a very good concert overall, it's a bit of a crime to leave it unreleased, let alone not to consider a full compilation covering the whole setlist, even if just audio!
While they were in England, Page and Plant had various vaccinations done, as they wanted to go to Morocco shortly after finishing those concerts, to do research for their next album. After that, another US tour was organised, and there were programs for other concerts in Asia, maybe South America, and who knows where else! Led Zeppelin were on top of the world at that moment.
Before doing all these things Robert and Jimmy, along with their families, went on a little vacation in Greece, on the Rhodes Island. One day, Jimmy decided to go to Sicily, to visit Aleister Crowley's house, leaving his daugther to Plant and his wife Maureen. Sadly, that day a car accident happened, and while Page's daughter was alright, both Robert and his wife were badly injured. Plant broke his ankle, and that caused a forced hiatus for the band. In that period the songs for Presence were written, and they will not play any concert until April 1977, nearly two years after Earl's Court.