Welcome To The 1979 Knebworth Festival, 4th Of August (Watch Tower WT 2002091/92/93)
Knebworth Festival, Stevenage, England – August 4th, 1979
Disc 1 (63:28): Introduction, 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
Disc 2 (65:05): Ten Years Gone, Hot Dog, The Rain Song, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand
Disc 3 (69:06): guitar solo, In The Evening, Stairway To Heaven, Rock And Roll, Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker
Led Zeppelin disappeared after the tragic events in 1977 and remained hidden from the public eye for two years, an eternity in the world of music. When they chose to play their first concerts in two years, and their first in England in four, they planned it in the most spectacular way imaginable by headlining not just one but two massive Knebworth festivals. This was the only way they could possible accommodate the demand for tickets.
The importance of these shows is best summed up by author Dave Lewis, who wrote: “For many in attendance it was their first ever concert experience. For many it would be the only time that they would get to see Zeppelin perform live. For that reason alone it holds a special affection in their live history. The first show in particular, with so much riding on it, was perhaps the most important they ever played.” (Led Zeppelin: Celebration II: The ‘Tight But Loose’ Files).
The two warm up shows in Copenhagen revealed a band who were not quite ready to headline such massive events, a point that Robert Plant stated shortly after the two when he said: “Knebworth was useless. It was no good at all. It was no good because we weren’t ready to do it, the whole thing was a management decision. It felt like I was cheating myself because I wasn’t as relaxed as I could have been. There was so much expectation there and the least we could have done was to have been confident enough to kill. We maimed the beast for life, but we didn’t kill it. It was good, but only because everybody made it good. There was that sense of event.”
Journalist Chris Welch, fifteen years afterwards, observed: “Fans [at Knebworth] were still supporting the band, but there was definitely a feeling [Led Zeppelin’s] days were numbered. Audience reaction at Knebworth had not been overwhelming and many seemed content to stand and stare, like mesmerised spectators at an alien ritual, a far cry from the hysteria of earlier shows. Robert Plant seemed perplexed at the silence between songs, when you could practically hear a pin drop in that vast, cold field. It wasn’t until he led the way into ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Trampled Underfoot’ that roars of appreciation began to echo around Knebworth. Robert’s only comment at the end of the last show was a guarded ‘It’s been quite good.'”
At least five audience recordings exist but in 2002 an almost complete soundboard recording surfaced. It is clear and well balanced but also very narrow sounding and has cuts in “The Rain Song” and “Whole Lotta Love.” It was issued on Blind Date (Empress Valley EVSD-214-219), You’ll Never Walk Alone(Tarantura 2000, TCD-9-1/2/3 & DVD) and on the horrid Lost Masters Knebworth ’79 (Celebration CDM-007, LTDCDM-007RE). Watchtower released the tape first in a seven disc set housed in cardboard sleeves and a deluxe box with the soundboard of the second Knebworth soundboard and a bonus disc with the first hour of the May 25th, 1975 Earls Court soundboard. Later they issued the two Knebworth shows separately in jewel cases. Of all the soundboard recordings, this is considered to be the better balanced and clearer of them all. The soundboard tapes caused a general re-evaluation of the event which was given another boost when much of the August 4th show was used on the official Led Zeppelin DVD.
The tape begins with the pre-show canned music before “The Song Remains The Same” and “Celebration Day” both sounding very intense and afterwards Plant sounds very excited greeting an audience in England for many years: “Well, I said Well. ah ah. I said Well. Good evening. Good evening. It’s nice to see you again. I told Pagey that one or two people would be here, but he said he doubted it very much. Well I can’t tell you how it feels. I think you can probably, you’ve got a good idea anyway, but it’s great.” “Black Dog” in the 1979 sounds very light and punkish compared to versions in the past. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is referred to as the time they “went to Munich and made an album called Presence which had a track on it Charles Schaar Murray really liked…he’s still taking the pills.”
One of the highlights of the show is “No Quarter” where Plant introduces John Paul Jones as “the man from Casablanca…some say a man in his own right, other say Royal Orleans” because of his white suit. At eighteen minutes long, Jones plays a tasteful solo on the electric piano recalling the same unified vision of the Earls Court performances capped off by one of the best solos by Page of the evening. “Ten Years Gone” is also tight. This is also the final time it is played live by Led Zeppelin since it will be dropped the following week.
Before “Hot Dog” Plant addresses all the people who came, from “Comharden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Kiddaminster, Freddie Bannister” and laments the delay of the new album, “so the album that came out two weeks ago unfortunately got delayed again. First it was a fortnight ago, and then it was a week ago, now it’s next Friday. It just goes on and on and on. This is a track from it that we should dedicate to trials in America.” He is surprised that people know the title already, “How come you know what it’s called? You’ve been reading about the Swedish and the Danish, hey?” After the tepid performance he becomes defensive, saying “Yes, still got a sense of humor….So we got all the way here, and now the equipment blows up. Never mind. It’s got to be better than Earls Court. Who’s the person who owned that goat and the little wagon that we saw out there two nights ago, camping out there? Just come round the back with us afterwards, and write an acoustic set with us.”
The guitar solo before “In The Evening” is a bit longer than in Copenhagen with the same fanfare Page used on the 1977 tour. The Götterdammerung introduction is very effective as a prelude to the new track which has its rough patches but is a great live vehicle. Before the final number Plant thanks the crowd for coming, saying “well all you people who’ve come so far, it’s been like a blind date, if you like. We’ve even loosened up and laughing. This is a song I guess we should …so many people who’ve helped us over the years, and no people more important that yourselves who come here on a blind date. This is for you.”
There is no editing in the tape after “Stairway To Heaven” so several minutes of chanting and cheering in audible before the encore set. Each of the Copenhagen shows received one, but both Knebworth shows got three. “Rock And Roll” is the first and following which the crowd serenade the band with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Plant joins and in twenty years afterwards, in an article in Mojo magazine, Page is quoted saying, “there were tears in the eyes” during that event. “Whole Lotta Love” is played in the same arrangement premiered in the second Copenhagen show and although Page stumbles at bit in the transition from first verse to middle, comes off fine and “Heartbreaker” closes what is one of the most important gigs in Zeppelin’s career. Plant’s assessment is correct. It is a very good and professional performance that hints at their former prowess but their two year layoff is all too apparent. Nevertheless Watch Tower produced a great version of the event which is an important piece of Zeppelin’s live history.