Nobody knows what Led Zeppelin would have looked like as a 1980s group. Based on the music that the three surviving members, specifically Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, played during that decade, it likely would have been a retention of their hard rock sound and ’50s rock and roll roots, with an occasional begrudging addition of a synthesiser or two. Thankfully, nobody has to hear what “MTV Zeppelin” would have sounded like, but maybe it would be something akin to The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ or Billy Squire’s ‘Lonely Is the Night’, both of which are great Zeppelin-inspired tunes.
Zeppelin had already survived quite a bit by 1980, and by all accounts, they were poised to continue on as strong as ever. Following a brief European tour with a more streamlined sound, John Paul Jones recalled: “Morale was very high. We were in really good spirits. We were stripped down a lot, musically, and as an act, we remember back to what we were doing. Punk kind of woke us up again. ‘Oh yeah, I remember what we are supposed to be doing here.’ It was about to go for a change of gears and round two.”
Still, all was not well. At a June 27 show in Nuremberg, Germany, John Bonham collapsed after the third song and had to be rushed to hospital. The band brushed it off, but Bonham’s drug and alcohol dependency was beginning to have significant implications on his health and well being, as well as his drumming ability. Even worse, Bonham was dismissive of the concerns and continued his established lifestyle unabated.
Any concerns were assuaged by consistent live shows and optimism for the future. That’s the attitude that the band carried into their final gig of the truncated 1980 European tour. The show was at the Eissporthalle an der Jafféstraße in West Berlin, and the band were confident enough in their performances to book a tour of America, their first since 1977. Bonham was nervous about the shows, reportedly telling Plant, “I’ve had it with playing drums. Everybody plays better than me. I’ll tell you what, when we get to the rehearsal, you play the drums and I’ll sing.”
Bootlegs of the final show prove that Bonham had nothing to worry about. His signature power and precision remained intact, even if his stamina had understandably decreased. It couldn’t have gone down by much, however, as the band plays for two and a half hours, barreling through a complete history of the band’s progression from blues to folk to hard rock.
Zeppelin opened with the first song they ever attempted together as a group, ‘The Train Kept A Rollin’, a permanent feature in the group’s live repertoire. Even though this is the more “stripped back” Zeppelin, there’s still plenty of room for extended jams and solos. Next comes the lengthy ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ from Presence. From there, the band stick strictly to the original material.
‘Black Dog’ comes next, and the band go back and forth with delicate ballads like ‘The Rain Song’ and ‘All My Love’ balancing hard rock stomps like ‘Trampled Under Foot’ and ‘Kashmir’. Ever the crowd-pleasers, the band end the concert with three of their most iconic tracks. ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is the final song of the set, and when the group return for an encore, they roar straight into thunderous ‘Rock and Roll’. Each member is firing on all cylinders, and the jam that takes over the final song of the night, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, is spacey and dynamic. Led Zeppelin exited their final concert to wild cheers from their adoring fans.
The planned American tour, and the optimism that the band had brought into the ’80s, were dashed upon Bonham’s death in September. There remains little doubt that the mighty Zep would have been equally mighty upon their return to the US, and the final concert in their classic lineup confirms that the band had lost none of its swagger or strength over a decade of rock and roll.
Led Zeppelin final concert setlist:
- Train Kept A-Rollin’
- Nobody’s Fault But Mine
- Black Dog
- In the Evening
- The Rain Song
- Hot Dog
- All My Love
- Trampled Under Foot
- Since I’ve Been Loving You
- White Summer
- Black Mountain Side
- Stairway to Heaven
- Rock and Roll
- Whole Lotta Love