Remembering John Bonham's Last Show with Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin in 1980
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Rob Verhorst/Redferns

On July 7, 1980, Led Zeppelin performed their final live show with drummer John Bonham, but when looking back at those last days with Bonham, who died on Sept. 25 of that same year, it’s interesting to see what might’ve been if he hadn’t fallen prey to his, say, the band’s first North American tour since ’77.

It’s well-known to Zeppelin fans, unfortunately, that the band’s aforementioned ’77 tour came to an unexpected conclusion when Robert Plant’s young son Karac became ill and died of a stomach virus when he was all of five years old. In the wake of Karac’s death, the band understandably ended the tour, and they remained more or less dormant until they settled in to record their eighth and final studio album, In Through the Out Door during November and December of 1978.

READ MORE: August 1979: Led Zeppelin Releases "In Through the Out Door"

"In Through the Out Door wasn't the greatest thing in the world, but at least we kept trying to vary what we were doing, for our own integrity's sake,” Plant told Q Magazine in 1990. “Of all the records, it's interesting but a bit sanitized because we hadn't been in the clamor and chaos for a long time.” In addition, the band made their return to the live arena by performing at the 1979 Knebworth Festival, although the show wasn’t exactly what one might describe as triumphant.

READ MORE: "Stairway to Heaven" Almost Derailed Led Zeppelin's 1988 Reunion

“I was wracked with nerves,” Plant told Uncut in 2005. “It was our first British gig in four years and we could have gone back to the Queen's Head pub. We talked about doing something like that. But instead we went back in such a flurry and a fluster to 210,000 people in a field and 180,000 more the next day, surrounded by Keith [Richards] and Ronnie [Wood] and Todd Rundgren. Nobody's big enough to meet those expectations. But because there was some chemical charge in the air, it worked. It didn't work for us. We played too fast and we played too slow and it was like trying to land a plane with one engine. But it was fantastic for those who were there.”

It would be almost a year later before Led Zeppelin played live again, but when they ventured forth on their Tour Over Europe 1980, which took them throughout West Germany as well as for one-off shows in Brussels, Rotterdam, Vienna, and Zurich, the magic was apparently back for Plant, who enjoyed the experience enough to finally agree to do another U.S. tour in the fall of 1980.

He did, however, require certain specifics in regard to setting up the tour: it couldn’t take him away from his family for more than a month, there couldn’t be any more than two shows in a row without a day off, and they couldn’t play any so-called “Superdomes.” With Plant’s conditions agreed upon, the tour schedule was established, with almost 20 dates planned for October and November of that year. There was legitimate excitement in the air, with John Paul Jones saying at the time that the band had “new energy” and was “almost in a rebirth situation.”

All of those plans, of course, never made it past Sept. 25.

READ MORE: September 1980: John Bonham of Led Zeppelin Dies at 32

Instead, the band’s performance on this date in 1980 at Eissporthalle in Berlin, Germany would be the final one to feature Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. And for what it’s worth, the “new energy” cited by Jones apparently did not extend to Bonham, who’d already been worried about his declining stamina behind the drum kit and reportedly told Plant in the way to their first tour rehearsal, “I’ve had it with playing drums. Everybody plays better than me. I’ll tell you what, when we get to the rehearsal, you play the drums and I’ll sing.”

But now at least you know what might’ve been.

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