Led Zeppelin

DiRaega By DiRaega, 16th Dec 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1g9dhnvi/
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Music>Rock

A brief analysis of the live performance styles of the band Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin


I think that one of the cornerstones of a truly spectacular band is how their live performances are viewed, not just immediately but also in the long term. For a band to achieve this there is no set formula that can be adhered to, however there are methods and techniques of improving performances. Lighting rigs and set design have more recently played a large part in concerts, as have pre-planned encores and the ever-popular medley. It is my belief though that there are some bands who are just destined to last and others that aren’t.

When I was growing up my father was a big fan of Led Zeppelin and so they were one of the first bands I was ever exposed to. As I matured and started to develop more of my own tastes I still found them very appealing, especially when I became a musician myself. John Bonham’s energy and passion for the drums inspired me hugely and spurred me on to coming to the ACM to develop my skills.

I think that Led Zeppelin always had the ability to give their performances the qualities necessary to stand the test of time. The combination of Robert Plant (vocals), Jimmy Page (guitar), John Paul Jones (bass guitar and keyboards) and John Bonham (Drums), all amazing musicians in their own right, led the group to becoming one of the biggest bands in the world.

Formation of Led Zeppelin

There was nothing special about the way Led Zeppelin formed. The interesting thing is that they did not play their first concert under this name. They performed under the name of ‘The New Yardbirds.’ Jimmy Page, lead guitarist for Led zeppelin, was originally a Yardbird himself and had been given permission to use their name in order to play final concerts in Scandinavia. Page and Yardbirds bassist Chris Dreja had been recommended a lead singer by the name of Robert Plant who brought with him John Bonham who was a drummer and had worked with Plant before in Band of Joy. Soon after this Dreja left and in his place they employed John Paul Jones as their bass player.

The four piece played on stage for the first time together in 7th September 1968.

How Song writing has affected their live performance

“John Paul Jones had formed such a great bond with Bonzo (John Bonham), that it allowed these two great musicians to become a rhythm section that would let Jimmy Page and Robert Plant steer the vehicle in any musical direction...”
(“John Bonham” by Mick Bonham)

The main bulk of the songs written were provided by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. First Page would come up with a riff, and then Plant would write the lyrics to fit it. This would then be taken to Bonham and Jones who would give it the rhythmical backing that fitted it best.

The band were true to one genre which was Rock. However if we were to look at genres within genres, then there was certainly some variety. At the time when they surfaced as a mainstream world famous band, there wasn’t really any music to be heard like it. They could afford to be purely Rock as they were original themselves. Obviously other rock bands existed such as The Who, The Rolling Stones and Deep Purple but many would agree that Led Zeppelin had the raw sound which defined them.

Similar to their songwriting, they employed novel ideas and techniques in their stage performances for example Jimmy Page playing guitar with a violin bow and John Bonham’s extended drum solo in Moby Dick where he plays the drums with his hands.

As their songs did not vary significantly from the distinctive Led Zeppelin sound, neither did their performances. I do not mean this negatively as their performances became a trademark for them. Stylistically their songs did differ but whatever style they incorporated, be it soul, funk, blues, celtic, indian or rockabilly, they still did it in their own inimitable way. There was always an electric atmosphere which seemed to entice the audience as all the members were so wrapped up in the music.

It is well known that after a few early television appearances went badly they refused to do any more, meaning that the only way to see Led Zeppelin live was at a concert. Due to the cult following they had developed, this instantly gave concerts a legendary appeal, as unless you had a ticket you might have felt as though you were missing out on something historic.

Since many of their songs were written with instrumental sections inherent to them, this meant that live, the songs could be stretched out giving each musician a chance to shine.

“we saw the whole essence of our live performance as something that the audience listen to very carefully... the spontaneity, and musicianship. By the time you see us in New York... the showmanship has started to come through and we are working together with almost a telepathy between us.”
Jimmy Page

On average each song that they played live was 2 minutes longer than on the album. Some were of course less than this but also some were considerably more, for example Dazed and Confused on the album is six and a half minutes long whereas live they stretched it to more than 15 minutes through extended solos and instrumentals.

Technical aspects of live performance

Whenever performing live Led Zeppelin tended to keep to the same stage layout. They were usually all grouped together in the middle third of the stage area. This may have been a reflex to deal with the daunting size of the stages and audiences; it is as though they are huddled together for mutual support and defense.

When it comes to the individual aspects of the bands on-stage performances there is no doubt that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are the frontmen whilst John Paul Jones and John Bonham were the solid rhythm section behind them.

Robert Plant very much seemed to feel the music flow through him. He was very uninhibited, singing and dancing with his eyes closed and often twirling his hands as though in a trance. He would also often toss his head back and play air guitar with his mic lead along to Page’s riffs.

“I can't take my whole persona as a singer back then very seriously. It's not some great work of beauty and love to be a rock-and-roll singer. So I got a few moves from Elvis and one or two from Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf and threw them all together.”
Robert Plant speaking in 1994

Jimmy Page was also very extroverted, he would look and point at the audience when playing main hooks. For example the lead riff in Whole Lotta Love. He would also have a spotlight for guitar solos. He pioneered the legs-apart classic guitar stance, which while common and cliched today, was original and thrilling back then.

In fact Plant and Page shared a lot of performance characteristics, such as moving around quite a lot to encompass a larger area of the stage. As well as this they interacted a lot by standing side by side with their heads together facing the audience, as well as sometimes facing each other singing the choruses to one another.

“...Visually the real theatre relied more on the performances of robert and Jimmy. They gave the band a visual presence it would never otherwise have had.”
John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones was usually very static. He would stay in the same place but even in that position he wouldn’t move much. He often stayed the same from start to finish except when moving to play the piano or change to the mandolin. Even though he was very restrained he was always charismatic as though he was always playing a role on stage.

John Bonham, on the other hand, was extremely extrovert and very active. He was consistently very busy even though a lot of his grooves were uncomplicated.

The rhythm section were often close to each other communicating considerably with eye contact and body movements. This is what was responsible for a rhythm so reliable and tight.

For their performances Zeppelin had coloured lighting rigs up either side of the stage. Spotlights would pick out individual members when soloing. The lighting was not what defined Zeppelin’s performances but it did contribute to the overall atmosphere. There are unison sections in Kashmir where the lighting emulates the rhythm. On the whole I would say that the lighting concepts were fairly minimal except for examples like this.

The band never really had that much interaction with the audience. The two members that did were Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. When playing, Page would sometimes point to the audience and Plant would occasionally let the audience sing exerts from songs for example “Lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time” from Rock and Roll. This is the extent it reached as they never introduced songs or made a point of speaking to the audience in between songs. They were always so good at creating an atmosphere though, one wonders whether contact with the audience was ever an issue at all.

The atmosphere was usually made using guitar effects and the vocals, particularly when Robert Plant would sing the guitar riffs. Considering their massive following which has grown even more over the years it seems that they did not miss a thing when it came to entertaining their audience. I have never seen them live but I can imagine the atmosphere must have been electric.

Political, cultural and social aspects which affect the live performance

There was a lot happening in the world in the seventies. The Vietnam War was ending and music was changing the way people looked at political and social events. Led Zeppelin were not considered a political band and they never considered themselves to be this way. Their music was always much more into mythology, science fiction and spiritualism. This is not to say that they did not have an effect on what was going on socially at the time.

Nor were they unaffected by politics. When Led Zeppelin toured America in the early seventies the Vietnam war was coming to an end and the country was divided between pro and anti-war factions. Needless to say that this meant people were feeling very uptight. When people went to see Led Zeppelin they really let themselves go and just put out of their mind all of the conflict filling their daily lives.

Band Experiences and the effect on live performance

Sometimes, more commonly in the later years of the band, problems arose due to the band members taking of drugs and/or alcohol. Jimmy Page and band manager Peter Grant among others were increasingly getting involved in hard drugs like cocaine. With John Bonham these were on top of his particularly high alcohol intake. Robert Plant was of the opinion that the spirit, excitement and energy of the bands early performances was lost.

There are a few shows which stand out from their 1977 tour as a demonstration of the excesses the members were going to. At this stage, Jimmy Page was taking heroin. As would be expected, his playing was below his usual standard and he was noticeably less animated than previously. A few years earlier, in 1975, he collapsed on stage. Many privately believed that this was due to drugs as opposed to the official explanation stated, which was far more innocent.

Musical influence and legacy

It is plain to see from the very first listen that Led Zeppelin were heavily influenced by the blues, it is a core element of their unique sound. They were very aware of their heritage and covered songs by Robert Johnson, among others. Alongside blues they took influence from many diverse styles from all over the world, ranging from folk and country to indian and arabic.

Led Zeppelin and their contemporaries (Deep Purple, The Who, The Rolling Stones etc) unarguably paved the way for heavy metal as it is today. They did this by pioneering a heavier sound and the use of distortion and overdriven guitar. However Led Zeppelin are averse to being branded as a metal group which is understandable since a large majority of their tracks are acoustic.

Communication breakdown was a song which would have far reaching influence. An example of this is Johnny Ramone (guitarist of the Ramones), who mentions that Jimmy Page’s downstroke riff was the inspiration for his own style of only downstroke strumming (itself regarded as helping to shape the sound of the Punk genre).

References and bibliography

www.allexperts.com -
“Led Zeppelin Essay, Royal Albert Hall Nutshell Description”
By Chris M. Zangara

-Led Zeppelin
-Robert Plant
-John Bonham
-John Paul Jones
-Jimmy Page

Led Zeppelin - DVD

Ramones - The True Story - DVD

Reading Material
The Independent newspaper article “Led Zeppelin: There was a whole lotta love on tour”
(Friday December 7th 2007)

Book “John Bonham” by Mick Bonham (ISBN-10: 1904915116) published 2005 by Southbank Publishing

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