In June 1980, Led Zeppelin embarked on a 14-date European tour. beginning (opens in new tab) on June 17 in Dortmund, Germany, the tour would also end in Germany with a show on July 7 at the Eissporthalle on Jafféstrasse in Berlin.
Tragically, this Berlin show turned out to be the band’s last performance with drummer John Bonham, who passed away on September 25, 1980 after a day of drinking. He was just 32 years old.
Although Bonham’s health was already failing during the summer hike (he collapsed (opens in new tab) three songs into the band’s June 27, 1980 show in Nuremberg, Germany, forcing the band to cancel the rest of the show) no evidence of this can be heard in the soundboard recording of the band’s July 7 performance posted below .
Throughout the 14-song set – which included a number of tunes (In the evening, Hot dog and all my love) from the band’s 1979 in through the exit door Album alongside classics like Black Dog, cashmere, Whole lotta love and stairway to Heaven – Bonham was in typically thunderous form. Like the rest of the band, Bonham was only too keen to show the crowd that the mighty Zepp – even after more than ten years at the forefront of rock – still had plenty of gas in the tank.
Though their commercial standing was never higher in the early ’80s, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Bonham were nervous about the band’s place in rock at the time.
The band’s mega-shows on August 4th and 11th, 1979 in Knebworth, England – designed as a triumphant live return to their home country after a four-year absence – polarized (opens in new tab). Many fans felt the brightly colored staging of the concerts, which were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, as a distraction from the sometimes more than a little ragged music.
By this point, punk, and especially new wave, had naturally risen from lively subgenres to kings of the hill, largely phasing out the long-drawn-out, blues-based music of Zeppelin and its late ’60s/early ’70s contemporaries.
In this sense, the quartet considered (opens in new tab) their gigs in the summer of 1980 as a reset. No big light show, no lasers, no white smoke – not even lengthy solo solos or extravagant outfits.
Even the venues on the tour were downsized significantly, the small western and central European arenas the band sped through were a far cry from the crowds at Knebworth and the massive American crowds in arenas and stadiums that the band entertained on their last tour had The Way Back to 1977.
The success of the 1980 European tour gave the band a nudge and convinced them to book a North American tour for the fall of 1980 with a similar stripped down approach.
It was during rehearsals for this tour – which was planned (opens in new tab) beginning October 17 – that Bonham has died.
Of course, we’ll never know exactly how Led Zeppelin would have evolved from 1980 had Bonham lived, but the soundboard recording of their last show with him certainly suggests they still had plenty of musical fire left.