Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Led Zeppelin, Montreal, June 7th 1972

June 7th:

On this day in 1972,
I saw Led Zeppelin perform
at the Montreal Forum

What is it about June 7th?

It is a date with some historical significance: The siege of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusades; Louis XIV crowned King of France in 1654; Port Royal, Jamaica destroyed in a major earthquake in 1692; Gandhi's first act of civil disobedience in 1893; Sony introduces the Betamax in 1975...

There are the birthdays: entertainer Dean Martin, singer Tom Jones and, of course, the excellent musician Prince. Even my wife and my best friend share this day as their birthdays...

And this is the day that in 1972, as an 11 year old, I saw Led Zeppelin performing at the Montreal Forum.

A lifelong love affair

My lifelong love affair with Led Zeppelin began sometime in late 1970. I had started to buy albums on my own. I had built a small collection of LPs that consisted of Stevie Wonder, Gordon Lightfoot and Tom Jones.

On one particular Saturday afternoon, I took a bus to our region's big shopping mall to go hunting for music. 

I had never heard the name "Led Zeppelin" before this day but sure enough, there I was staring at a bin where parked right in front was this brown album with this odd bunch of people sort of drawn on the cover. I had haphazardly picked up Led Zeppelin II without knowing anything about the band or their music. In the end, this was my purchase of the day -- chosen no doubt by still being intrigued by the album cover artwork -- and home I went to have a listen.

Once back home, off went the wrapper and down went the needle on our family Grundig and in a second I graduated from Stevie, Gordon and Tom to this....

Not only was I completely blown away by what started to play on the stereo, but I distinctly remember the look of shock and horror on my mother and grandmother's faces as they both walked into the living room at the same time, wondering what the hell was going on. Their timing could not have been better as they walked into a wall of "Whole Lotta Love" about two minutes into the song...

I instinctly knew right then and there that this was the music for me.

Not long after that and by complete chance, I spotted an ad in the Montreal Gazette newspaper: Led Zeppelin was in town in just a matter of few days. I asked my parents for permission to go to this concert and they said yes. Seriously cool parents! 

Or crazy parents... I don't know that I would let my 11-year-old go to a major arena show all by himself with his 11-year-old buddy. Then again, this was the '70's...

Perhaps my parents had an expectation of what the show was about. After all, I had seen Johnny Cash and June Carter the year before with my parents at the same venue, so a Led Zeppelin show had to be about the same, right?

Tickets? Who needs tickets?

We arrived at the Montreal Forum about an hour before the show without tickets. My mom simply dropped us off on the street corner and we made our way to the box office. Luckily, there were still some tickets for sale. I remember the price: $5.50 each. I remember being in line at the box office surrounded by these peculiar looking long-haired people, all much taller than I was. They all seemed amused by our presence in the ticket line. I distinctly remember that throughout the evening everyone we met was extraordinarily cool and extremely helpful to these two young somewhat misplaced lads.

We made our way to our seats. They were as nosebleed as you can get, facing the stage from the upper rafters, but what would I know of a good seat or better seat back then?

There was a palpable tension in the air, smoke-filled and heavy with anticipation. We watched with amazement at the sea of people beneath us, banners being unfurled, rolls of toilet paper being thrown about instantly becoming these amazing streamers. This was seriously exciting!

Oooh, oooh that smell...

A mysterious odor wafted through the arena, sweet and unrecognized by this amateur concert-goer. In the row of seats right below us, a group of people were busy at work trying to light up this tiny ball of what seemed to be dirt, stuck on a pin and mounted on a cigarette package. Once lit, they immediately blew out the flame (how pointless was that exercise, I asked myself) and then proceeded to cup their hands around the object of their attention. They seemed to be inhaling the rising smoke. I had not a clue what was going on, but they sure seemed to be eager to get the job done. I wondered what's the hurry?

With the crowd seemingly becoming more restless and noisy, and the building ever more filled with this hazy smoke, the lights suddenly went out. I was momentarily startled but then strangely relieved when, in the dark, I could hear the approving roar of the crowd. It was a roar I had never heard before, likely the loudest sound I had yet heard in my life. The decibel level of the crowd was something unbelievable to my ears and yet nothing as compared to what was coming next.

There was a strange sound coming from the stage, a drone really. The crowd became louder still, cheering madly. The drone carried on. Could it be Led Zeppelin? All the while we are still in the dark but I am seeing hundreds of matches being lit throughout the audience while people seemed to be moving about the stage area with flashlights. 

And then the band started to play.

Oh My God!

What I thought was loud before was nothing compared to the concrete wall of sound that hit me head on with the opening riff of the "Immigrant Song". I was stunned... I was in a state of shock and awe... I was hooked... I was in love with this band in a way I had never imagined before.

Do I remember much more of the show? No, not really. It was all total sensory overload, but the impression and impact on my life was everlasting. I've remained a lifelong fan of the music of Led Zeppelin, both as the band and as the individual musicians. I was lucky to see Led Zeppelin perform again in Montreal in 1975 and was eagerly anticipating the kickoff of their 1980 North American tour right in our own city when sadly, all came to a crashing end with the death of John Bonham.

Thanks to the Internet, there are now resources that help fill in the blanks from those days long gone by: set lists, reviews, audio files and fan sites... but the one thing I never forgot was the date: June 7th.

It was a sunny and warm Wednesday evening and Led Zeppelin was in town to play.

And my life had changed forever.

Christian Nissen.

Led Zeppelin, Montreal Forum, June 7th 1972 - Setlist

Immigrant Song
Black Dog
Since I've Been Loving You
Stairway to Heaven
Going to California
That's the Way
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Dazed and Confused
What Is and What Should Never Be
Moby Dick
Whole Lotta Love (medley)
Rock and Roll
Thank You

Montreal Gazette Review, June 8th 1972

Led Zeppelin: Top Heavies Electrify 12,000 at Forum

by BILL MANN of The Gazette

The members of Led Zeppelin are safely ensconced in their Waldorf-Astoria suite in New York this morning while the city of Montreal faces a severe power shortage as a result of the British group's gig here last night.

Zep couldn't have left too much amperage in town after they put on one of the most electric shows Montreal will ever see. And the 12,000 people in the Forum got quite a charge out of it.

It was the hard-line rockers' second stop on their latest North American tour. And, all along the Eastern seaboard, they'll be flying back the same night to stay in the Waldorf, their home away from home.

Well, Jimmy Page and crew earned their substantial pay last night. They played for well over two hours — there were no preliminary groups.

They are not only the original group of all the heavies, they are still the best. All their imitators — Black Sabbath, Grand Funk, etc. — aren't even in the money (figuratively speaking, of course).

Page can hold his own with just about any electric guitarist in the world. He has simply gotten better since his Yardbird days with Eric Clapton, and continues to grow.

When Page takes off on a riff, you listen. It's like taking your back brain out for a night on the town. There is so much electricity and sound coming through those speakers you almost think they're going to explode.

The group came out and ripped into their best-known songs, starting with The Immigrant Song. And, before the crescendo of requests grew too insistent, they did Stairway to Heaven, that venerable, reflective piece that everyone seems to get into. It’s their best work yet.

One small complaint — lead vocalist Robert Plant got a little lazy on the song, choosing the low route on the high notes, going an octave lower.

In fact, Plant is more of a shrieker than a singer, most of the time letting the group's echo chamber do his work for him, yet, he is an inseparable part of the band. Plant, by the way, tries to sing a lot of his songs like Janis Joplin might, and even the mannerisms are the same.

Then Zep did four or five acoustic songs, with John Paul Jones joining in on mandolin. They were valuable, but electric music is obviously Zep's forte.

On Black Dog, the best rocker in the past two years. Page launched into another riff, and cleared up one misconception of mine: on their latest album, in this cut, it sounds like Page falls off tempo. He did it again last night — but it's on purpose.

Seeing Page live gives you the opportunity to hear the great guitar runs that he is capable of; on Zep albums, the flashy stuff is sorely missing (listen to Whole Lotta Lovin', for example — Page is brilliant for 10 seconds, but that's all of a guitar break there is). Jimmy has more riffs in that expensive axe of his than anyone I've heard (with the possible exception of Johnny Winter).

I just hope he doesn't flash himself out by the time he reaches age 30.

Zep has learned to put strategic breaks in between the explosions of sound, a trick that makes their music so much more dynamic than that of their imitators. I'm glad too, we caught him early on the tour. His fingers must get mighty tired. My eyeballs got tired watching his fingers. But my ears were applauding.


  1. Christian, Nice write up. I was there too at the age of 18.
    It was amazing, the concert of a lifetime.
    I share your sentiments. I recorded the show and it is one of two sources used on the Montreal bootleg. Am still a huge fan, and always go to shows when one of the members is within a 400 km radius of Ottawa.


  2. Sam,

    Thanks for posting. I hope my post rekindled some memories from so long ago. It's nice to hear from someone who was at that particular show as to date, you are the only one(other than my partner-in-crime from that evening)!