40 Years Ago: Led Zeppelin Play Cleveland Show Immortalized on ‘Destroyer’ Bootleg
Despite being part of a tour that eventually devolved into violence and heartbreak, Led Zeppelin put it all together during their April 27, 1977, stop at the Richfield Coliseum near Cleveland – and everyone got to share in the experience.
"Zeppelin-ologists claim this was one of Led Zeppelin's best shows on the tour," John Gorman, a well-known figure in Cleveland radio, later remembered. "And much like the 10th anniversary [Bruce] Springsteen concert at the Agora, this 1977 Coliseum show was one of the most bootlegged of Led Zeppelin's career."
The best of those boots remains the three-disc set Destroyer, which included the entire 18-song performance – from the opening "The Song Remains the Same" through to a two-song encore of "Rock and Roll" and "Trampled Under Foot" that arrived more than three hours later. Better still, unlike lo-fi fare such as the fan-made bootleg Listen to This Eddie from later on during the same tour, Destroyer offered remarkably clear audio.
Zeppelin ended up running through an impressive sampling of fan favorites that night in Cleveland, including "Since I've Been Loving You," "Stairway to Heaven" and "Kashmir," while sprinkling in newer fare like "Achilles Last Stand" from their latest album Presence. A standout moment arrived courtesy of John Paul Jones, who led an improvisational run through "No Quarter" that stretched to 20 minutes.
"Working from both electric and acoustic pianos, John Paul Jones again impressed with his general versatility," a reviewer for the local Scene paper wrote in April 1977. "Jimmy Page later joined in for what to me was his apogee of an evening’s worth of standout soloing. It was one of the best rock jams I’ve ever witnessed."
The liner notes for Destroyer, issued by the Shout to the Top label, actually thank John Bonham for use of the tapes – though initial vinyl pressings incorrectly placed the concert at Seattle. Later, a bootleg of the bootleg appeared; it was edited down to two discs by omitting Led Zeppelin's lengthy take on "Moby Dick."
Together, these boots seem to celebrate a band at the top of its game. A show held three days after this Cleveland stop went on to draw more than 76,000 fans to Detroit's Pontiac Silverdome – setting a record for an indoor arena at that time.
In actuality, however, Destroyer documented the beginning of the end.
Listen to Led Zeppelin Perform 'Rock and Roll' in Cleveland
Dates in support of Presence, Led Zeppelin's seventh studio record, had kicked off on April 1, 1977, in Dallas, with 51 concerts scheduled. They'd never get there.
When Led Zeppelin reached Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati on April 19, 1977, more than 2,000 fans without tickets attempted to crash the gates – resulting in around 70 arrests. Later, on June 3, a riot broke out in Tampa after an open-air concert was cut short by a thunderstorm, leaving behind scores of injured fans. Moving forward in a tense, drug-fueled environment, Led Zeppelin's performances were criticized as increasingly overblown and inconsistent.
Then Robert Plant's son Karac died on July 26, 1977, after a bout with a stomach virus. Already fearful that things were going off the rails, Plant took an extended period of time away to grieve. A tour originally intended to last through Aug. 13 abruptly ended.
"By 1977, I was 29, just prior to Karac's passing, and that sort of wild energy that was there in the beginning had come to the point where we were showboating a bit," Plant told Uncut in 2008. "Unfortunately, we had no choice. We were on tours where places were going ape s---. There was no way of containing the energy in those buildings. It was insane. And we became more and more victims of our own success. And the whole deal about the goldfish bowl and living in it, that kicked in."
Led Zeppelin eventually rallied to produce 1979's In Through the Out Door, but by Sept. 24, 1980, Bonham was dead at age 32, and Led Zeppelin were no more. Already scheduled North American concerts, including a return to Cleveland on Oct. 25-26, 1980, were canceled.
That left a July 24, 1977, date in Oakland, less than three months after Led Zeppelin's heralded stop at the Richfield Coliseum, as their last-ever concert in the U.S.
Led Zeppelin, Cleveland, April 27, 1977 Set List
"The Song Remains the Same"
"Nobody's Fault but Mine"
"In My Time of Dying"
"Since I've Been Loving You"
"Ten Years Gone"
"Battle of Evermore"
"Going to California"
"Black Country Woman"
"White Summer/Black Mountain Side"
"Achilles Last Stand"
"Stairway to Heaven"
"Rock and Roll"
"Trampled Under Foot"
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