The first album was out and “Communication Breakdown” was an FM Radio hit. The music was so different than what we’d been hearing, so new and hard and driving, crunching guitars, pounding drums, high, screaming vocals. There’s wasn’t even a name for it back then, but soon it would come to be known as the future institution, hard rock. The record had only come out in stores the week before, nobody knew anything about the band, who looked so girlish on the back record cover, with their big heads of puffy hair and pale English skin, that it embarrassed me and most of the guys I knew – I was 17 and back then, anything ‘faggy’ was to be positively shunned, but the band was so good, we decided to let it slide. And they were singing about girls, in a way that raw and sexual, so we figured they were probably all right with us.
When Led Zeppelin went onto the stage that night, they walked through the crowd to get to it. Like kings, like conquering heroes parting the masses, it was a theatrical move and it worked. Jimmy Page and Plant were about two feet away from me as they made they royal way through. I’d never seen anyone that close who was so skinny and pale. And they had all that hair. And they also had that air, of knowing that they were about to be big. Very big. Nobody knew any details about the band but we knew the buzz was that they were going to be huge and the proof of it was there in the grooves, because the record sure as hell rocked.
They jumped up on stage and fiddled with their guitars and amps for a while. John Bonham thumped his drums, tested the foot pedal. That’s what bands did in those days, it wasn’t orchestrated down to the minute the way it is now. Bands would even stop to tune up onstage if they needed to and the audience didn’t seem to mind. It was all part of the thing. They didn’t play football stadiums then. Led Zeppelin would soon create that, ushering the rock world into arenas, giant money and legendary excesses. But this night, they were just four guys on a relatively small stage. Big Marshall amps. Bonham’s big Chinese cymbal. One guitar, one bass, drums, and a singer.
When they started playing, the sounds that came out of the amps and house speakers was deafening. Bands usually played loud, but not this loud. The vibrations hit your chest with physical force. It was... it felt... what’s the word? Heavy. They started with a song the Yardbird’s used to cover, “Train Kept a Rollin’” later claimed as a live signature song by Boston boys, Aerosmith. Zep had formed out of the ashes of the defunct Yardbirds. Their original name sounded like a Spinal Tap joke, “The New Yardbirds.” “Train” was the first song the band played together, when they first met and rehearsed in London.