Being born in 1961, I was too young to see The Beatles or at least too young to really understand what they were doing. Further complicating the chances of seeing The Beatles was they didn’t really tour too much. As a native New Yorker, I missed my chance in 1964 when they played at Shea Stadium. However, being only three years old at the time, I probably would have been more interested in what flavors of ice cream they served at the stadium than anything else. I have seen Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in concert over the years. While it may not be The Beatles, its still thrilling to be in the same building as a Beatle and listen to a Beatle sing Beatles songs.
I have a few friends that are about ten years older than me that saw The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. It’s interesting to hear them talk about the experiences of seeing those three legendary acts. Supposedly, the crowds at Beatles concerts were so loud that you couldn’t even hear the band. The Beatles’ shows were also incredibly short. I have also been told that Jim Morrison was usually stoned out of his mind on stage and often completely incoherent. There have been many stories of his rebellious behavior on stage that often came closes to igniting riots. Still, it would have been cool to see the Lizard King standing in a world of psychedelia.
I believe Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page are the greatest rock and roll guitarists of all time. Rock and roll is not about being clean, articulate and perfect. Rock and roll’s about being nasty, sloppy, rebellious and above all energetic. That was both Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. Both played with incredible heart and soul. Watch any video of Hendrix and its apparent within the first few seconds. I’m not taking anything away from his technique because he had unbelievable technique but it was his energy, his passion his spirit that defined him. Hendrix is the one act that I wish I had seen that I never did.
The one act that has always stood at the top of my list as the greatest band to see in concert was Led Zeppelin. The band probably stands as the band of choice to have seen live for most classic rock fans. Many have seen them, more have not. In my case, I was one of the lucky ones. The greatest concert I ever saw in my life was Led Zeppelin at New York’s Madison Square Garden at the start of the summer of 1977. It was the greatest day in my life.(hope my wife and kids aren’t reading this.)
Acquiring Led Zeppelin Tickets
It was never easy to get tickets to see a Led Zeppelin concert. Maybe in 1969 when they first started out it was, but that quickly changed as they became Rock Gods almost instantly. In the 1970s, New York’s Madison Square Garden used to have a box office where you could buy tickets for any event. It was located where the current Amtrak ticket area now stands. The only way one found out about concert tickets going on sale for a concert in the 1970s was either from a newspaper ad or an announcement on the radio. If you wanted a ticket to a concert you had to stand in line at the hall’s ticket windows or a local ticketron. One had better chances of getting better seats to any concert at Madison Square Garden by going directly to Madison Square Garden’s ticket windows. That’s how we got our Led Zeppelin tickets.
Our tickets for Led Zeppelin cost $10.50 . We had two seats in the lodge section which was the lowest section in the arena. The tickets were red with a complex design printed behind the Led Zeppelin name to help protect against counterfeiting. None of the other concert tickets I ever brought at the Garden had that design embedded in them. They were great seats not far from the stage for ten dollars. In the 1970s, concert tickets were affordable for teens. Bands toured to promote albums in which they made their money. Nowadays in 2020, no one sell music anymore so a concert ticket serves as a very large portion of a band’s income. Hence, The Rolling Stones charging over a thousand dollars for a lower section seat and over over three hundred and fifty dollars for a nosebleed seat in a stadium. Who can afford that? Back in the 1970s, concert going was a way of life and we saw so many great bands. However nothing came close to what it was like seeing Led Zeppelin .
Madison Square Garden and The Long Wait
We arrived early for the concert on a very early summer / late spring night. Led Zeppelin played six shows at Madison Square Garden during the month of June in 1977. My friends and I attended the second night on June 8th. The arena filled quickly. No one wanted to miss one second of a Led Zeppelin concert. Led Zeppelin was not a band you wanted to arrive late for. As the arena clock struck 8:00 pm, an incredible roar took over the Garden. My friend and I looked at each other like we were about meet God. We were standing at the gates of heaven waiting for the doors to swing open. No one band in the world was as big as Led Zeppelin was in 1977. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Yes, Springsteen were all huge in 77, but no one was in the same league as Led Zeppelin . That’s not a personal opinion, that’s a fact jack!
8: 00 pm came and went. The sound of the crowd died down just a bit. Most bands never started on time especially if there was no opening act. Every few minutes the crowd would start screaming. This was definitely the loudest crowd I had ever been a part of at a concert. With every minute that passed the arena filled with smoke. The smell of marijuana at a concert was as common as the smell of beer stained floors. No one stopped it. The ushers at sports arenas in the 1970s were old, or at least they looked old to 15 years olds. Nonetheless, there was not a heavy security presence in the stands. It was pretty much anything goes.
Anytime a sound tech walked onto the stage or the sound of an instrument reverberated from someone sound checking, the crowd would go nuts. 8.30 came and went and still no Led Zeppelin. At 9:00 pm it started to get a bit ugly. Eighteen thousand people facing each other who had been drinking and smoking for hours with nothing to do but wait is going to lead to some problems. Funny thing is my friend and I did’t care about anything. They could have been dropping bombs on us from a World War I fighter plane and there was no way we would move. We were waiting for Led Zeppelin.
The Led Zeppelin Concert Begins
At 9.30 pm the lights went down. I distinctly remember looking at the time on the scoreboard clock when the lights went out. It was forty three years ago, but I have never forgotten that moment when Led Zeppelin was about to hit the stage. It was complete darkness for just a few seconds but it felt like hours. The crowd was going berserk. Suddenly in the darkness the sound of Jimmy Page playing the intro to the “Song Remains The Same,” begins. Its so hot we are sweating to death. People are screaming as loud as I ever heard, but none of that matters because Jimmy Page is on stage in the same building as I am playing the intro to the “Song Remains The Same.”
The stage lights flickered on and off quickly in time with every couple of notes during the intro.They were teasing us, giving us only a glimpse of Led Zeppelin for a second at a time. And then it happens, the full band explodes in unison at the turning point in the intro and the lights on the stage are turned up all the way. BAM!!! Led Zeppelin are roaring through the beginning of “The Song Remains the Same,” as tight and as loud as a band could be. The energy level in the arena goes nuclear!
On the stage in that white outfit with the long red rose is the almighty Jimmy Page ripping through the guitar parts. Standing to Jimmy Page’s right is the ultimate rock God himself Robert Plant. Bonham is blasting away on the drums as John Paul Jones keeps it all together. And then one of the first mighty, majestic, magical moments of the night occurs. The band reaches the pinnacle of the intro and stops, Robert Plant steps forward and sings “I had A Dream.” Oh my God! I wonder how many people passed out at that moment?
Yes, I know it’s a very dramatic retelling, but believe me it was that dramatic. We were just kids. It was the 1970s, there was no internet, no MTV, you never saw Led Zeppelin outside of the pictures you viewed on album covers and magazines. Here they were in the flesh playing the music that had become such a big part of our lives as young teenagers. We lived this stuff. Not all teens, but the rock and rollers did.
Every song Led Zeppelin played that night was greeted with insane thunderous applause. Fans knew every song within a millisecond of the starting note. Led Zeppelin played songs from all their albums from Led Zeppelin I to Presence which was the album they were touring to promote. They were on fire when they played “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and “Achilles Last Stand.” These were both tracks from their latest album Presence; both tracks that stood as the opening songs on each side of the record.
Of course there was the standard long solos from each of the three players in the band. Jimmy Page drove the crowd wild with the bow solo. John Bonham had his standard long drum solos that gave many people a chance to finally hit the bathrooms. The same went for John Paul Jones’s solo. These long solos were common at concerts in the 1970s. It helped let everyone catch their breath, both fans and musicians.
The set list for the 1977 tour was great. The band seemed to really understand their audience and the songs that had become fan favorites. I never met a Led Zeppelin fan that did not love the Physical Graffiti album. We had wished they played more songs from that record but hearing “Ten Years Gone,” and “Sick Again,” live was breathtaking. Of course the album most represented in the concert was their fourth album. “The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Rock and Roll,” and of course “Stairway to Heaven,” were all performed that night.
Led Zeppelin IV had only come out seven years before the concert. Just think about that! Half the socks in my dresser are older than seven years. The point is no one was sick of “Stairway To Heaven,” yet. In the 1970s, that song was still thought of as one of the greatest songs ever recorded. It may not have stood the test of time as well as many other Led Zeppelin classics, but that may be just because of sheer overplay of the song on the radio. Nonetheless, in the 1970s that song was huge!
When Jimmy Page began playing the first four notes of that “a minor chord,” introduction, the volume of that crowd’s response probably was louder than when the Beatles first hit the stage at Shea Stadium in 1964. It was deafening. A song that we had heard on the radio almost every day of our lives, that every garage band we ever knew played in every basement and teen party, that kids in coffee houses in every high school performed was now being performed in front of us live by Led Zeppelin themselves. Moses could have down from those mountains and sat right next to me holding hands with Farrah Fawcett and I would have paid no attention to them. It was a monumental moment in time when Robert Plant began screaming, “And as we wind on down the Road.” What a song to end the concert with!
After a long wait, the band came back for two encores delivering amazing performances of two of their most popular songs. The opening notes of “Whole Lotta Love,” brought the crowd back to a frenzy immediately. Like “Stairway To Heaven,” this was another Led Zeppelin song that we pretty much listened to every day in the 1970s. I am running out of adjectives to describe what it was like hearing those songs played by Led Zeppelin in 1977. The final song of the night was a roaring rendition of “Rock and Roll.” During the song, the arena turned the house lights all the way up. I never liked when they turned the house lights on at the end of a concert. It just takes something away form the mystic of the band on stage.
With the closing notes of “Rock and Roll,” Led Zeppelin was gone. The crowd was completely drained. My friend Francis Diemer and I took the subway back to the Bronx totally recognizing that we had just seen the greatest rock and roll concert of our lives. What we didn’t realize was that it would probably be the last time we would ever see Led Zeppelin. No one ever expected the bands break up three years later due to the death of John Bonham.
I have seen hundred of concerts in my life. All of us who grew up during the classic rock ear of the 60s 70s and 80’s attended many shows. Three shows standout forever. Springsteen in 1978, Prince in 1985 and of course Led Zeppelin in 1977. Seeing Led Zeppelin that warm June night in New York in 1977 defined the greatest concert I ever experienced. It was on a level that I will never experience again. Certainly one of the highlights of my life. Thank you my old friend Francis Diemer for bringing me to the show!