Final Cut (Celebration Definitive Masters CDM-002)
Knebworth Festival, Stevenage, England – August 11th, 1979
CD 1: (67:38) The Song Remains the Same, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over the Hills and Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Hot Dog, The Rain Song
CD 2: (50:45) White Summer, Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, guitar solo/ tympani solo, In the Evening
CD 3: (39:16) Stairway to Heaven, Rock & Roll, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown
Such was the belief in Led Zeppelin’s undiminished popularity that, when they booked their big UK come back for the Knebworth Festival in 1979, promoter Freddie Bannister took the unprecedented step in booking two concerts on consecutive weekends. Whereas the first Knebworth show drew an estimated 100,000 people, the second drew only 40,000 (some sources put the number as high as 80,000) and the idea backfired on the promoter.
Robert Plant in particular resented the almost universal criticism of the first weekend and his complaining during this show really spoils the mood. However, between the two Knebworth shows, this is arguable the more artisically satisfying.
It was the last of the four in 1979 and there are signs that the band were gaining more confidence. They were supported on this day by New Barbarians, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, The New Commander Cody Band, and Chas and Dave.
Many audience recordings exist of the event, but in late 1999 the Celebration label premiered this almost complete, excellent quality stereo soundboard recording on Final Cut. It was the label’s second release (after the Bonzo’s Birthday Presents soundboard fragment) and remains one of their best productions before they began to remasterd their tapes to death to produce utter garbage.
Celebration use an excellent audience recording for “White Summer” and Plant’s closing comments at the end of the show. There is such a dynamic timbre to the music and audience sounds that is unique to many soundboard recordings that, despite the re-releases, remains unsurpassed. The discs are housed in a fatboy jewel case with many photos of the event in a cardboard slip cover. The first edition is in gray and the second in brown, and both editions contain a four page insert and are limited edition.
Since Celebration’s release there have been several other releases of this tape. The earliest was Knebworth Festival (TCD-4-1,2) which tried to cut down on the lower frequencies. Jelly Roll made a comeback five years after their last release with Knebworth Festival 1979 (JR-32/33/34) with increased volume and the PA problems removed.
Empress Valley released Blind Date (EVSD-214-219) in 2002 and although the tape is complete, they “improve” the show by taking out the PA problems during “Over The Hills And Far Away.” It is also lacking in the lower end.
Watchtower issued Welcome To the 1979 Knebworth Festival, 11th Of August (Watchtower WT 2002094/95/96) soon after Empress Valley in both a seven disc boxset with the first Knebworth show and a bonus disc from Earls Court and individually in jewel cases.
After the opening songs Plant shows his bitterness at being slammed in the press after the first Knebworth show, saying, “Well, it didn’t rain, but it rained on us in the week from one or two sources, and we’re just gonna stick it right where it really belongs.” It is immediately obvious that the emotion and intensity of the first week is lacking.
“Over The Hills And Far Away” is ruined by a loud crackling in the PA system. Page in particular sounds distracted during the solo and stumbles into the second half. “What’s going on?” Plant asks. “It must be the samosas” he jokes but the noises persist through “Misty Mountain Hop” which, “apart from a load of crackling featured Jonesy on narcissistic keyboards.”
“No Quarter” is fifteen minutes long and includes a masterful duet between Jones and Page in the middle section where there seems to be some telepathy between them proving this is one of the greatest live vehicles written by Led Zeppelin and it is a shame this would be the final live version.
“Ten Years Gone” is dropped so Plant goes into the long introduction to the first new song of the set, saying, “In the neolithic caves in Peru they’ve been finding a lot of colored drawings on the walls, and along with the colored drawings they also found a new album cover. We’re managing to get the album out in about two weeks. As you’ve no doubt read the reviews, it’s tremendous. You can imagine. It’s called In Through the Out Door, which is one of the methods of entry that proves to be harder that one would originally expect. And this is one of the tracks from it. It’s called…and we dedicate this to the Texas road crew, and all the people to be found in the sleazy hangouts around there…it’s called Hot Dog.”
“The Rain Song” is very strong and the tape picks up Jones playing some pretty and unique bass-lines in the middle of the piece. The next portion of the set is occupied with some of their most adventurous songs of tours and journeys beginning with “White Summer.”
Whether the thematic link was intentional or not, but “Kashmir,” “Trampled Underfoot,” “Sick Again” and “Achilles Last Stand” all deal with motion and adventures in foreign lands in one way or another. They are performed well although “Sick Again” seems to puzzle the audience and “Achilles Last Stand” stumbles out of the gate and is generally sloppy.
Everyone seems tires after “In The Evening” as Plant introduces the final song of the main set, saying, “it comes to the time now when we really got to thank you for hanging about for four years you English folk. And you French people, for hanging about since ooh, I don’t know how long. I would like to thank everybody who’s come from everywhere to create part of the atmosphere that we’ve had. The other bands that we’ve had with us, Commander Cody. Good, good, good, good. Todd, Keith, and Ronny [Keith Richards and Ron Wood who opened for Zeppelin as the New Barbarians]. Peter Grant. Thanks everybody.”
A tired version of “Stairway To Heaven” is played before they come back for the encores. “Can you do the dinosaur rock?” Plant asks before “Rock And Roll.” The new arrangement of “Whole Lotta Love” is much more tight and vicious this evening and the final encore is a quick version of “Communication Breakdown.”
“It’s been great….We’ll see you very soon. Don’t know about the Marquee, but somewhere soon. See you later, bye” are Plant’s parting words. For an historical piece this is a great document to have of this show, warts and all.