The death of Led Zeppelin’s legendary drummer, and possibly the greatest percussionist of all time, John Bonham, would bring an end to the biggest band on the planet and one of the most prominent rock acts of the seventies. It was a death that would send shockwaves across, not only the music world but the entire globe as the juggernaut John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham sadly passed away.
The stadium-sized rockers, Led Zeppelin, had long ruled over a decade in which they delivered album after album of monster jams, but the new decade presented a fresh challenge. The eighties would be a daunting time for any hard rock act and, to make matters worse, it would be one Led Zeppelin faced without their behemoth drummer. The drummer took to the stage for the final time with his brothers in rock on July 7th 1980.
The summer of 1980 saw the end of Led Zeppelin’s major European tour. It was a rally of shows which would confirm Led Zeppelin could be just as powerful in this decade too and hinted that they weren’t about to slow down for anyone. With the group’s last performance in Berlin proving to be the final time Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham would share the stage. It had been a tour full of new beginnings for a band who had been on the ascendancy for so long.
The tour of 1980 would see the band have to drastically change their act to match the new values and themes that audiences held dear. Led Zeppelin had been the wild showmen of the rock world during the seventies but, as the music world turned towards the brash and basic staging of punk and new wave (enjoying the employment of real-life talent rather than the upper echelons of rock as before), the band were starting to look as long in the tooth as their now-passe soloing. With 14 nights scheduled for the European summer, Zeppelin needed to streamline their set to make sure they weren’t seen as dinosaurs.
The band had been touring since 1968 and while the show had definitely evolved from the band’s original efforts, the performances had now become a little static, a little staged and all too predictable for their audience. As such, the group cut the fat from the show and avoided anything that felt too over-produced or over-complicated. This saw the removal of lots of their visual effects, including the smoke, lasers, and even their costuming. For old school fans of the band rocking up in 1980, the experience of seeing them was very different to anything they may have experienced but Zeppelin had to evolve.
It also meant that the now-well-established ritual of John Bonham’s epic drum solo on ‘Moby Dick’ (usually coming in around the fifteen-minute mark), Jimmy Page’s violin bow guitar solo on ‘Dazed and Confused’, and John Paul Jones’ noodling keyboard intro on ‘No Quarter’ were all cut from the setlist too. Instead, the emphasis was placed back on the songs rather than the individual parts that make them. The tour became known fondly as the ‘Cut The Waffle’ tour.
Fret not Zepheads, the band still had a show full of classics as no Led Zeppelin performance was complete without the obligatory ‘Stairway To Heaven,’ the band’s favourite ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’. It means that this bootleg from the band’s last performance with their main man John Bonham is still packed full of perfect moments as they open the show with ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’, a stalwart they’ve been performing since 1968.
Despite the lure of a new decade of domination of the rock and roll world beckoning, another classic from the past would close the show and signify they weren’t done with their old stuff yet. John Bonham would bow out with Led Zeppelin with the stunning performance of ‘Whole Lotta Love’. The drummer would sadly pass away only a few weeks after the show and leave a huge hole in what made Led Zeppelin great.
Just a few weeks before the show, Bonham had seemingly foreshadowed the event, as he collapsed three songs into the set and saw a Zeppelin concert cancelled — his drinking had gotten out of control. While the rest of the tour went off without a hitch, Bonham died after drinking around 40 shots of vodka in a single night, never waking up from his stupor and leaving fans across the globe in shock.
The drummer was reportedly at Jimmy Page’s house recording and writing new music and possibly concocting the next batch of tunes to share with a brand new decade. Sadly, with Bonham’s passing, Led Zeppelin would never get the chance to record as one again and disbanded in December of that year.
Listen below to the final performance of Led Zeppelin’s iconic line-up.