Tampa Stadium c 1999
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones were the four members in what could be called the most successful touring act in rock music history and has also been called the "biggest band of the '70s." Between 1971 and 1975, Led Zeppelin packed stadiums across North America and Europe with tens of thousands of screaming fans and ushered in an era of live, corporate-sponsored concert performances known colloquially as Arena Rock.
Many critics at the time sincerely felt the emergence of arena rock signalled the end of true rock and roll, since any tour able to sell 40,000-75,000 tickets per show required substantial financial backing from large record companies and banks. Arena rock shows were often characterized by large, overblown amplification and included light shows, pyrotechnics and other special effects. Led Zeppelin was not only the most commercially successful, but also the most exploited act of the day.
Perhaps their biggest show took place during their 1973 world tour at Tampa Stadium in Florida. On May 5th, almost 60,000 fans filled the sports stadium to hear their favorite band rock out with their favorite tunes. This show broke the attendance record of all-time - a record set by the Beatles during their 1965 Shea Stadium concert in New York. The show grossed over $300,000 which, adjusted for inflation, equals $1.5 million today.
In response to flying around the world (in their Starship) and blasting their music to crowds of thousands, Page and Plant penned "Houses of the Holy," a cleverly hidden allegory about the arenas during their shows. They likened the sports stadiums to churches full of believers on Sundays. Lyrics such as, “There’s an angel on my shoulder” and “From the door comes Satan’s daughter” help to create the images of worship halls in which people offered up praise to God (or the "dark one"). In reality, Page and Plant felt as if they were being worshiped as gods of rock themselves.
Demolition of Tampa Stadium c 1999
Having developed a reputation for wanton debauchery while on tour (television sets thrown out of windows, trashed hotel rooms, and indoor motorcycle rides), Zeppelin fueled their concerts with even more pomp and circumstance spanning nine separate tours of North America before their self-induced hiatus in 1975 (which only meant they began touring in alternating years instead of every one). “It was like a tornado," Jimmy Page told journalist Cameron Crowe (who went on to write a screenplay based on his experiences with Zeppelin called Almost Famous
), “and we went rolling across the country.”
No two performances were alike as the band established their on-stage chemistry and confidence in trying new tricks to delight fans. They tested out new songs, played extended versions of older ones, and even improvised riffs and chorus without practicing. Jones is quoted as commenting that their desire to try out new things on stage was simply to keep them “from going mad.” Their intense touring schedule coupled with their magical song-writing made Led Zeppelin as influential in the '70s as the Beatles were in the '60s.
During their 1977 tour, the band reprised the sellout show at Tampa Stadium. However, the weather didn't cooperate and in spite of the "rain or shine" promise written on the tickets, the concert was canceled in the middle of "The Song Remains the Same," and the fans freaked out. The subsequent riot, on June 3rd, has been dubbed the Tampa Stadium Riot. Eight people were arrested and 100 others were injured during the melee. Originally, the band decided to perform a make-up show the following day, but city officials canceled it due to the violence of the rioting fans. Coincidentally, the word Tampa means "sticks of fire" in the language of Calusa, one of the Native American tribes.
Finally, it is interesting to note that while "Houses of the Holy" was inspired by the sellout crowds filling the auditoriums in which Zeppelin played the world over, the band never performed the song live in concert.
~ Justin Novelli
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