Friday, May 15, 2020 8:00 PM
Oakville Centre, AEG Liebherr Auditorium
$65 Regular Seating
$58 Big Ticket Members
$54 Big Ticket Plus Members
Inspired by Welsh countryside, suffused with folk, acoustic and pastoral music, it was the Zeppelin album that confounded critics but truly brokered their legend. Nineteen sixty-nine was one helluva year for Led Zeppelin. In the short span of 12 months they played close to 150 shows, recorded two best-selling albums, toured the US five times, and established themselves as one rock’s top box-office draws. In the harsh winter of ’68 they had been lucky to get $1,500 for a club gig, but by the time 1970 rolled around, they were demanding as much as six figures a show. It was singer Robert Plant’s idea to head for the hills – the Cambrian Mountains in Wales, to be exact. The 22-year-old remembered an 18th-century cottage called Bron-Yr-Aur he had visited in his youth, and felt it would be great place to temporarily escape life in the fast lane and commune with nature. Plant extended an invitation to his co-writer, guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, and in the spring, the two men took their women, instruments and supplies to the bucolic retreat to recharge their batteries and “get back to the garden”.
“It was time to take stock, and not get lost in it all,” Plant said later. And what better way to keep it real than at a place with no electricity, candles for light, water from a stream and an outside toilet? The story of Plant and Page’s regenerative trek to Wales looms large in Zeppelin folklore, with many assuming that most of the acoustic-based songs that eventually appeared on Led Zeppelin III were written there. Page disputes that notion, but doesn’t dismiss the significance of the journey. “When Robert and I went to Bron-Yr-Aur we weren’t thinking: ‘Let’s go to Wales and write,’” says Page. “The original plan was to just go there, hang out and appreciate the countryside. The only song we really finished while we were there was That’s The Way, but being in the country established a standard of travelling for inspiration and set a tone for Led Zeppelin III.” Little did the band know that this subsequent ‘tone’ would end up sending massive shockwaves throughout the rock world. Led Zeppelin’s pastoral third album was recorded at Olympic Studios in London and released in October 1970. It seemed almost self-destructively perverse – a 360-degree retreat from the testosterone-infused hard rock that had made them international superstars.
Six of the 10 tracks on the third album were built around the sweet ’n’ bitter strains of Page’s acoustic Harmony guitar as the band touched on everything from traditional bluegrass (Gallows Pole) to country blues (Hats Off To (Roy) Harper), to a folk song so upbeat you could square-dance to it (Bron-Y-Aur Stomp). To emphasise the rustic nature of the album, Zeppelin even changed their appearance, growing facial hair to Hobbit-like proportions and wearing clothes that made them look more like hippie farmers than sex gods. Fans and critics were dazed and confused, but the band stood their ground. Soon after the album’s release, Page was keen to emphasise Zeppelin’s evolution. “There is another side to us’’ he said. “Everyone in the band is going through changes. There are changes in the playing and the lyrics. Robert is really getting involved in his lyric writing. This album was to get across more versatility and use combinations of instruments. I haven’t read any reviews yet, but people have got to give the LP a reasonable hearing.’
The truth is, the third album should have come as no surprise to anyone paying full attention to the band. The radical seeds that sprouted on III had been planted years earlier. Throughout the 60s, as Page toiled as London’s top session guitarist, very little escaped his attention. Like a musical sponge, he absorbed every lick the Chicago blues boom had to offer, took copious notes on contemporary folk-guitar virtuosos like John Fahey and Bert Jansch, and even purchased a sitar years before world music caught the attention of Beatle George Harrison.
He had already started applying those exotic flavours to rock ’n’ roll during his brief stint with The Yardbirds, and developed those ideas further on such early Zeppelin tracks as Black Mountain Side, which featured an Indian tabla musician, and Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You, which improbably married a Joan Baez song to heavy metal power chords and a flamenco guitar solo. The acoustic songs, Page opined, were designed to create dynamics both on the albums and in live performances, and that the harder songs “wouldn’t have as much impact without the softer ones”. Yes, some thought Led Zeppelin III was commercial suicide, but in retrospect it was a brilliant gambit. Not only did the album prevent the quartet from becoming hard-rock caricatures like, say, Deep Purple or Ten Years After, but it also gave them an opportunity to take an important evolutionary leap forward. Often marginalised as ‘the acoustic album’, III was much more than that: it represented a truly daring leap in synthesising the folk, rock and world music elements found on the band’s first two albums into what one thinks of as ‘the Led Zeppelin style’.
Classic Albums Live:
Founded by Craig Martin in 2003, Toronto-based Classic Albums Live recreates famous rock albums without the gimmickry, relying solely on the music. It has become the ultimate destination for music lovers wanting to hear the greatest albums performed live.