Friday, October 12, 2007

Early Zep stint in Detroit ranks among top all-time shows

Journalist Jaan Uhelszki has written about Led Zeppelin on several occasions, but her latest mention of the group calls an early show in Detroit one of the 50 best gigs ever. The group's three-day stint in January 1969 at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit was attended by Uhelszki, as she recounts in the October 2007 issue of Uncut magazine.

Led Zeppelin's first album had just been released only days earlier when they spent the weekend in Motor City. They were only a few weeks into their first tour of North America. A print ad appearing a week earlier in the Fifth Estate misspelled the band's name as "Led Zeptelin." That's just how unknown the young group was at the time.

Pam Brent was at the third show reporting for Creem magazine. Despite using the word "capable" to describe the talents of both Robert Plant and John Bonham, she admitted in the article that appeared on March 29 that the band didn't leave a huge impression on her personally.

The opposite was true for future Creem reporter Uhelszki, then a 15-year-old working at the concert venue. She explains in Uncut that her job afforded her opportunities to stand onstage during performances, and that was the case for the Led Zeppelin weekend as the band made an instant impression on her with a show she recalls as containing only nine songs.

"Making sure I didn't ruin my brocade satin trousers, I managed to squeeze in behind Jimmy Page's Marshall stacks, moving centimetre by centimetre until I was almost on the same latitude as John Bonham's drum kit," Uhelszki writes. "So moved and transfixed by 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You,' and 'How Many More Times,' I found myself leaning on Jimmy's amps in order to take it all in.

"All four wore impossibly tight jeans and leather jackets, looking very little like the foppish dandies they later became," Uhelszki continues. "Page smoked a cigarette, the ash dangerously dangling only inches from his black leather jacket -- while we waited for Bonham to tighten some doo dad on his rather modest kit."

Led Zeppelin returned to the Grande Ballroom for a fourth show on May 16. "After that they sold out auditoriums," writes Uhelszki. She spoke to Page and Plant during the 1977 tour and reported on ticket sales of 700,000 in four cities, in a piece that first appeared in New Musical Express on June 11 and was reprinted in Creem the following month.

The October 2007 Uncut magazine is sold with a CD that includes the version of "Win My Train Fare Home" Plant recorded with Justin Adams in Timbuktu, Mali, at the Festival in the Desert in January 2002. The CD, titled Global-A-Go-Go! Celebrating 20 Years of World Music, also includes a cut by Tinariwen, a group from Mali that Plant in recent years has cited as one of his favorite acts. He has performed with and alongside Tinariwen, both at a tribute concert for the late Ali Farka Touré and at the 2003 Festival in the Desert (DVD, CD).

Uncut's "Best Gigs" feature lists Tinariwen's performance at the premiere Festival in the Desert two years earlier as No. 11 (Led Zeppelin in Detroit makes No. 46, topping shows by only the Arcade Fire, Nirvana, Guns N' Roses and Oasis). Nigel Williamson recalls the performance as "the most remarkable, unforgettable night I have ever experienced." Tinariwen just beats out an early U.K. show by The Who.

Jeff Buckley, another of Plant's favorite performers, also makes the cut, at No. 21, with a solo show on March 18, 1994, that started in the basement of one London bar and continuted at another venue down the street. "Bunjie's was too hardcore to bother with mics, and the somersaulting range of Buckley's voice was more apparent than ever," writes John Mulvey. "He played for an hour or so, and wanted to play longer, but the venue was closing."

Everyone there followed Buckley to the 12-Bar, where the singer-guitarist sat unaccompanied on a "miniscule stage" and "tried to play every songs he'd ever heard: The Smiths; Led Zeppelin ...," Mulvey writes. In fact, Buckley had covered the Page-Plant-Jones composition "Night Flight" from Zep's Physical Graffiti during a performance the previous summer in a New York cafe; a recording of that is now available on the Legacy Edition of Live at Sin-é released 2003.

1 comment:

  1. I should also note that Ali Farka Touré appears twice on the "Global-A-Go-Go!" CD sold with Uncut's October 2007 issue. Compiled by Nigel Williamson, the CD includes Touré's "Penda Yoro," taken from the album Savane. It also includes a recording of the traditional "Diaraby," in an arrangement by Touré performed by him and Ry Cooder, who also produces the track.

    The Tinariwen track, "Assouf," is taken from the album Aman Iman: Water is Life and was produced by Justin Adams of Plant's band, the Strange Sensation.


Comments are moderated prior to publication. Comments will not be published if they are deemed vulgar, defamatory or otherwise objectionable.