On this day in 1971, Led Zeppelin played a gig at the National Stadium in Dublin. John Daly recalls an event that was also his first ever gig.
If the old proverb is correct in espousing that “vengeance is a dish best served cold”, then Led Zeppelin surely had a freezer full of retribution for Rolling Stone magazine.
In the magazine’s review of the band’s debut album — released 50 years ago this month — journalist John Mendelsohn did not spare the barbs: “Jimmy Page, around whom the Zeppelin revolves, is... a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the album suffers from his having both produced and written most of it.”
Mendhlesson rounds out the assassination with a final attack on Led Zep’s “willingness to waste their considerable talent on unworthy material”.
Such a hatchet job certainly recalls the 2000 film, Almost Famous, inspired by writer Cameron Crowe’s years as a teenage music journalist, and where one 1970s rocker warns another about talking to the magazine: “It’s Rolling Stone, man,” he croaks. “The magazine that trashed ‘Layla’, broke up Cream, and ripped every album Led Zeppelin ever made!”
The fact that all the band’s albums went straight into the UK and US Top 10 must surely have made for a wonderfully tasty cold dish for Misters Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones to serve as the fame and fortune started to roll in.
Regardless of what kind of aggro they might have sustained from an initially unimpressed music press, when Led Zeppelin arrived in Dublin’s National Stadium on March 6, 1971, there wasn’t a single soul in that packed arena less than beatifically ‘dazed and confused’ to be present at such a legendary gig.
For myself, it was to become a huge tick on my life’s bucket list, long before I had even grasped such a concept — as I sat dead centre, seat A7, on the very front row for the princely sum of £1.25.
Barely into my teens, it was my first ever live concert — within touching distance of rock gods who were changing the world. All around was an air of unbridled expectation, like a roller-coaster moments before its deepest drop, added to by the pungent aroma of illicit substances breathing forth from every section. Smoking was an art form in those days.
Massive banks of enormous speakers towered almost to the ceiling, cables snaked off in every direction, and I can still remember the complete lack of barriers or security between audience and the stage — unheard of in today’s ultra-guarded arenas.
The band were then in the process of recording their seminal album, Led Zeppelin IV, and had blown away the Ulster Hall in Belfast the previous night, sending the media into overdrive with banner headlines proclaiming: ‘Ireland Unites Under Zeppelin’.
Long before Facebook or Instagram were even a concept, all 3,000 of us in that sweaty, grungy, ecstatic stadium knew we were going to hear the debut of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ — the song frequently listed top of the best rock anthems ever written. The same year the Irish Women’s Movement took the ‘contraceptive train’ to Belfast and The Troubles became a powder keg as internment was introduced, it was a night destined for the annals.
And suddenly they were there, a quartet of whirling dervishes cloaked in clouds of dry ice only six feet from us, racing into the wrap-around, ear-shattering volume of ‘Immigrant Song’.Lead singer Robert Plant, bare-chested and wailing like a banshee, drenched us in sweat with every twirl of his pelvic-length blond locks. Some reviewers suggested his ability to hit high notes was in direct proportion to the tightness of his jeans. No arguments there.
Jimmy Page explained after the intro numbers:
Playing his twin-necked Gibson guitar with a violin bow during ‘Dazed & Confused’, he puffed carelessly on a dangling cigarette while prancing across the stage clad in an ankle-length leather coat adorned with an SS badge on the collar. Cool and rebellious? Oh yeah.
The stadium really went ape as the first chords of their global hit, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, echoed across the rafters. It was the ultimate heavy rock call to arms that had everyone standing on seats, stomping the floor and bouncing in the aisles. Nobody was sitting at that point, and the few befuddled security staff, who had long given up attempting to restore order, melted meekly toward the exits. If this was the teenage rebellion, I wanted more.
Artist William Mulhall, who designed the tour poster depicting a zeppelin looming through the clouds over the Harland & Wolff shipyard, was invited to watch the concert from a prime position in the wings.
He later recalled:
Seemingly without pause to draw breath, the anthems piled up on each other — ‘Black Dog’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Going To California’, ‘Communication Breakdown’ — whipping the stadium into a frenzied, stamping, throbbing mass. In an arena more accustomed to southpaws and haymakers, all 3,000 of us reeled from the musical punches and rhythmic rope-a-dope being thrown our way.
The standing ovation started long before the show was over, and at the end Zeppelin were forced to come back for several encores before the night was done.
I can still vividly remember a beautiful blonde-haired girl a few seats along my front row — Afghan coat, purple tie-dye peasant blouse, ‘Ban the Bomb’ headband —stubbing out a doobie beneath the heel of her Earth shoe and murmuring: “It’ll never be better than this,” as she passed me by. She wasn’t wrong.