The Last Performance In The U.S.A.
Led Zeppelin 1977 visit to the United States was meant to be a comeback . With Robert Plant’s healed leg and promoting a year old album Presence, the three legs of the tour were going to re-establish the band as the top live act of the seventies and shatter all sorts of attendance records.
The set list was reworked again. Only two new songs from Presence, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Achilles Last Stand” were added. They also added the long acoustic interlude for the first time in five years including the never before played live “The Battle Of Evermore” from the fourth LP.
The tour began in Chicago in April with some very impressive concerts. The first third ended with some of the best shows on the tour in Cleveland and Detroit. The second third hit a climax with six massive shows in both New York and Los Angeles. After almost a month off, the tour resumed in Seattle with a mediocre show in the Kingdome. The second date in Tempe, Arizona was a disaster and was followed by the two shows in the Oakland Coliseum.
Part of the Day On The Green series of concerts organized by Bill Graham, Zeppelin were supported by Rick Derringer and Judas Priest for both days. The two concerts sold-out 115,000 and were meant, in the words of Plant himself, as an apology for the cancellation of their Day On The Green show from 1975. The two three and a half hour marathons, in the words of the press following the event, more than made up for the absence two years before.
These two shows in northern California were meant to be followed by massive dates in New Orleans, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and ending at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, but they were all cancelled when Plant’s son mysteriously died. Events three years later would dictate that these remain Led Zeppelin’s final shows in the U.S. The Last Performance In The U.S.A. on Scorpio presents both concerts edited from the various tapes to present the best sounding and most complete versions on silver disc.
The Day On The Green, Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA – July 23rd, 1977
Disc 1 (62:19): Intro, The Song Remains The Same, Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter
Disc 2 (61:08): Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, Trampled Underfoot, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir
Disc 3 (46:40): Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll, Black Dog
Two audience recordings exist for the July 23rd show. One was released on It’s Been Great (Image Quality IQ-010/11/12) and the other on Confusion (LZ-72377A/B) back in the nineties. Several years ago both tapes were pressed in the five disc set A Quiet Before The Storm: The Day On The Green Tapes Vol. 1 (The Chronicles Of Led Zeppelin 042/043/044/045/046).
Scorpio is the first label to edit the two tapes to present the complete show. Their weaving of the two sources is frequent and very smoothly handled. The difference in quality between the two sources can be a bit jarring at first, but not detrimental to the overall experience.
The first Oakland show is much improved compared to Seattle or Tempe. With Plant wearing the “Nurses Do It Better” shirt (do what though is never answered) and Page in the black dragon suit, they get off to a sluggish start (which Plant admits), but it picks up steam early and become a nice event.
“Well good afternoon. I see we finally made it” Plant tells the audience after “Sick Again” “I guess I must personally apologize for a two year delay but it’s very nice to be here and to be back. We should just waste no time at all and give you something that we should have given you a while back, yeah?”
He apologizes before “Over The Hills And Far Away,” saying, “If we seem to be just a little bit sluggish now we shall start to liven up cause we’re not even awake about forty five minutes. You know how it is, which is no excuse admittedly. We’re gonna do a song from before the flood you might say. We must have a short break while Jimmy puts a belt on his trousers. He’s losing his pants. That would be one of the worst things to happen. It’s just one of the formalities of getting dressed in the morning.” He then jokes, “So this is what they call daylight?”
Plant makes constant reference to the bright sunny afternoon. For example he calls “Since I’ve Been Loving You” a “blues for a summer’s day.” The only other outdoor afternoon gig this visit was the June 3rd show in Tampa which, because of a heavy rainstorm and a misunderstanding with the promoter resulted in a nasty riot.
The heavy blues number is dramatic and lively as is “No Quarter.” Jones get into wild west musical themes, music suggesting a gentle horse ride during the piano solo. The twenty-five minute performance of “No Quarter” is perhaps the first standout in the early part of the set. The audience’s reaction to the long improvisation suggests the piece loses none of its power without the light show and dry ice.
While getting ready for the difficult “Ten Years Gone” Plant launches into his normal spiel about how in rehearsals they “looked through all the material that we had to avoid in the past” and pointing out Jones’ new “three necked acoustic instrument which allows him to show his versatility a little more,” calling “Ten Years Gone a song “about lost love.” Unfortunately Page becomes derailed in the song’s middle and forgets his cue in the transition. The band have to figure out where they are.
The acoustic set begins with a long word of explanation with Plant saying, “A long time ago ah, I guess in the days we used to play Winterland, Bill, where is he? We used to do an acoustic set, and we decided that as it’s been so long since we’d been here, like about that long, we should do an acoustic set this afternoon. Besides the fact we’ve done it everywhere else, it brings to the front of the stage ah, a very famous percussionist. A master of peace and quiet, John Bonham.”
“Going To California” is a song which is “influenced by probably afternoons like this.” The entire four song set is inspired in front of the massive crowd and is followed by one of the best 1977 versions of “Trampled Underfoot.”
Jimmy Page his is first solo spot, the long meditation on “White Summer” and “Black Mountain Side” which segue seamlessly into “Kashmir.” The drum solo “Over The Top” aka “Moby Dick” is dropped for both Oakland shows probably because the spectacle of the light show synced with the drums would be ineffective in daylight. The proceed with Page’s noise solo leading into “Achilles Last Stand.”
The rest of the show comes off very well and they even include a rare version of “Black Dog” which is one of the very few times they ever play it without an instrumental introduction of some kind.
The Day On The Green, Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA – July 24th, 1977
Disc 1 (60:18): Intro, The Song Remains The Same, Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter
Disc 2 (43:22): Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Mystery Train, Black Country Woman, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Trampled Underfoot
Disc 3 (55:57): White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll
Three tapes are in circulation for Led Zeppelin’s final show. The oldest tape was used for Fighting Finish (SIRA 122/123), Push! Push! (IQ-026/27) and Seventh Heaven (Immigrant IM-006~7), the second on Final Ever In the States (Missing Link ML-014/15/16) and the third on The Last Concert In America (Tarantura TCD-101-1, 2).
Scorpio is a three source mix meant to assemble the most complete version of the gig in the best available sound quality. Like the previous day’s show, the sources are edited together nicely and occur too often to try to document the edits (Bootledz will do that).
The tensions in the interim of these gigs is well documented. The backstage violence between Bonham and members of Zeppelin’s road crew and Bill Graham’s staff were intense and even lead the band to threaten to not play this gig. They would be arrested after the gig with their mugshots splattered across the evening news.
Despite the off-stage drama this is a very good show. While still not one of the best from this era, it is certainly the best on the truncated final third. Before “The Song Remains The Same” the band play a groovy little riff as a warm up. After “Sick Again” Plant apologizes for the delay and says “it’s nice to see the sun again, surprising what sun can do I suppose. It’s more than a pleasure to be back because it’s been four years? Three years? Four years? Time goes by so quickly. So we won’t beat around the bush. We’re sorry for the delay. We thank Bill Graham for putting on a most spectacular… I think he built the place especially for rock concerts, and we’ll just keep playing.”
“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is again followed by “Over The Hills And Far Away.” The Houses Of The Holy track had been alternating with “In My Time Of Dying” since their New York gigs, but it seems they decided to drop it for the third leg. The heavy metal guitar solo in the middle is appreciated by the audience.
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” is called “a touch of the English blues” and “No Quarter” is dedicated to Bill Graham (really a bad choice when you know the subtext). The final “No Quarter” played in America, it’s another excellent improvisation improved by a mysterious woman dancer onstage dancing along to Jones’ boogie piano. After the song, when they’re setting up for “Ten Years Gone,” Plant is at a loss what to say. “John Paul Jones piano, Jimmy Page guitar, John Bonham drums, and Bill Graham’s ah, the young lady … something to do with, we don’t know who she was sorry. Thank you very much. The invisible dancer. Sorry, Bonzo’s bird” he jokes.
“The Years Gone,” a disaster in the first show, is much better in this one. Before “The Battle Of Evermore” Plant brings Bonham to the front of the stage, introducing him as “John the Divine, John the Placid” and then dedicates the song to Dr. Larry Badgely, the tour’s physician and subject on a running gag in Cleveland back in April.
Before “Going To California,” a song written about their love for the Bay area, Plant reminisces about their first visit. “Being somewhat lost for words, this is a song that should be dedicated to when we, in nineteen sixty… I think sixty-eight. When we first came to the Fillmore, it might have been sixty-nine, there was an amazing atmosphere about the whole of San Francisco and all the surrounding areas. Something that we couldn’t really experience anywhere else, but in this town, and when you go back to England, dear England, you look back to California and you think about all the dreams that … sounds a bit mushy doesn’t it? All the dreams that you had and all the dreams that everybody else had so I guess this song relates to those days, and the extensions are still with us.”
They deliver a poignant performance of the piece and afterwards play a fast and hard “Mystery Train” as a prelude to “Black Country Woman.” Someone close to the microphone comments that Page looks stoned. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” ends the acoustic portion of the show.
While they’re tuning for “Trampled Underfoot” Plant sings a line from the Elvis song “Surrender”: “When we kiss my heart’s on fire / burning with a strange desire / So my darling please surrender” and then comments, “I think we’re developing some kind of heavy elation from playing in the daylight. It’s so unusual to do. It’s really stimulating?” Practicing for the next song, Plant sings “push / push” before introducing it as “the careful looking after an automobile.”
The noise solo segues into “Achilles Last Stand.” The Presence epic teeters on disaster until it falls apart by the end. After an embarrassing pause they manage to figure out where they are in the song and finish. The set ends with “Stairway To Heaven” complete with the dancing girl returning to the stage. The encores are “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock And Roll.” Bill Graham comes to the microphone afterwards and wishes everyone a good afternoon (before booking charges against the band).
These two aren’t the best Zeppelin gigs, but are enjoyable. And since they are their last two shows in the US, are historically important. Scorpio package the two in a six disc quad case with photos from the gigs on the inserts and a reproduction of the Larry Tuten concert poster on the front. Scorpio made very effort to make The Last Performance In The U.S.A. the definitive versions of these shows and have succeeded.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)