Let’s do some math…let’s pretend for a time travel second that you were seventeen in February of 1969 Fast forward to 2012 and sure, there might be an arithmetic downside of age. But screw that, blast backwards and there are definite advantages. Some are sociological, some historical, some are downright monetary. But also musical: think for a second about the last concert you went to. Think about whom you saw, what awful acoustic hell of an arena they were in if it was a name act… how close you were to the stage, perhaps now visualize the price of the ticket. There, I got you.
On the first real date I ever went on, I took my new girlfriend, Becky Thompson, to a concert. As I hinted, it was February of 1969, February 7th to be exact, and we went to the Kinetic Playground on the Northside of Chicago. You did not have to worry about being of age as the Kinetic Playground did not serve alcohol. It was not a small club but it was not large by any stretch. On the main level you sat on the floor and could get as close to the stage as you wanted or as close as your new neighbors and butt physics allowed. Towards the back was some seating, there was also a second level, somewhat of a balcony, where you could stand and see the stage as well.
We were there for three reasons; I was head over heels for Becky and wanted any excuse to go out with her. Second, one of the hot songs of the day was Vanilla Fudge’s “You Keep Me Hanging On” and they were headlining. Thanks to the miracle of circular oldies radio many of you can conjure up that tune. Third, my older sister, Mary, who was away at college, had just sent me a new record by Jimmy Page’s new band who were going to be playing as well. Jimmy Page’s old band was the Yardbirds. Both the album and his new band was fantastic, I played it non-stop.
For those that are immune to circular radio and the never ending composting that is oldies stations, you might not remember the Yardbirds. This was the band that was both excellent and acted as a famous finishing school for gigantish British blues – rock hero guitarists starting with Eric Clapton, then Jeff Beck, and ending with Jimmy Page. I first saw the Yardbirds in 1966 on Hullabaloo, one of the two rock music television shows that sprung up in the Ed Sullivan – Beatles wake, Shindig being the other. Both were cheesy but most of the time the bands did not lip sync and at least you did not have to sit through all kinds of crap like on standard “Variety” shows like Ed Sullivan or Dean Martin. So, on Hullabaloo the Yardbirds play their biggest hit to date, I’m a Man where the lengthy fade out is a complete rave with Jeff Beck playing completely non-musical things on his Fender Telecaster. To date that was one of the coolest, most musically subversive things I have ever seen. I loved the Yardbirds. Jeff Beck then leaves to form his own band, The Jeff Beck Group, with lead singer Rod Stewart (before he turned into Dean Martin, which he did , yes, he absolutely did), and the Yardbirds then featured Jimmy Page on lead guitar. Almost impossible to imagine was that he was in the band for some season of time with Jeff Beck which should have caused damage to the Earth’s rotation or tectonics or something but inexplicably did not. By the way, if you have never heard “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” by the Yardbirds, seek it out on I-tunes. You will never hear it on radio and it might be in the top ten singles of all time. Seriously.
Anyhoo … Sister Mary knows I love the Yardbirds and sends me Jimmy Page’s new record. Magically/coincidentally I see that his band is at the Kinetic Theatre the next weekend. Plans are made.
Five dollars admission, Becky and I walk in and realize the first band has already started. This is the first of three groups that will be playing. What I am trying to understand as we scoot very close to the stage, encouraging a little open pocket of rear ends to open up, is why are there two guys on stage dressed as shepherds, both playing flutes, both standing on one leg? The music sounds great but it is an arresting image. One of the flautists goes back to guitar and the other one stays on flute and it becomes apparent he is also the lead singer. I ask the person next to me and he has no idea who the band is, the person in front of me hears the question and yells “Jethro Tull.” The name meant absolutely nothing to me.
Looking back I can only assume that they would not be touring without a record, especially then, so it must have just come out but their name recognition was humming along right around zero . But the crowd was appreciative and rightfully so, they were killing. Glen Cornick on bass, the very underrated Clive Bunker on drums, and Mick Abrams, (who was to leave after their first album) on guitar and one-legged flute, and of course Mr. Tull himself, Ian Anderson.
The stage hands appear to set up the second act. They wheel out very obscure, unusual upside down triangular shaped, large Rickenbacker Amps, a lot of them, and test the drums. The set is a nice maple Ludwig kit with a floor tom on a snare stand for the rack tom, big drums. The off-stage voice introduces “Led Zeppelin” and the reception is polite but it is clear only about a third of the audience had any clue who the heck Led Zeppelin were. I guarantee that even fewer had the album which had been out with very little fanfare for just a matter of weeks, two months tops.
They are young, aggressive, seemingly happy and appreciative to be there and very skinny, even John Bonham. They rip through the first album in the same song sequence. So…you have just turned 17 and you are sitting on the floor about 50 feet from the stage, it is loud but not damaging and you hear the drum intro to Good Times – Bad Times. By the time they got to Dazed and Confused, heart and minds were won, farewell letters written, foreign countries invaded, governments toppled, you name it. It was ridiculous. They get to How Many More Times/The Hunter and it is suddenly over, the crowd standing and yelling like mad. The standing bit was somewhat unusual for a sit-on-the-floor 1960’s venue owing to the physical requirements of standing after being cross-legged for a couple of hours, not to mention the languid effects of the combustible refreshments being discreetly self-served.
But the crowd is standing and will not, will absolutely not let Led Zeppelin leave the stage. Robert Plant is laughing and apologizing that they can’t play any more songs because they played everything that they know. “Sorry, we don’t know any more songs!” Did not matter. So they repeated the first two songs and the crowd is still not letting up nor was the band.
To be able to see a band that is obviously destined for greatness but at an early, early moment is a wonderful thing. Theoretically, their fame/acceptance/treasure/career still hang in the balance and they are working very hard to get that pendulum to swing. It is not there yet and there is work to be done but everyone can feel it. There will always be work to be done, recording and performing is never easy but in that very early frame there is palpable appreciation shown to the crowd by the band that is then boomeranged back at the band. Love and affection times love and affection. With real success that band-gratitude thing is the first thing to go.
Just as importantly, sitting there, I and everyone else — through pure dumb luck — just saw the future and were flashed an up-close, in-house preview of the next decade of rock music. These first releases of Tull’s This Was and Led Zeppelin show us now that the energy and investment were not going to get any better over that timeline.
Forget Evolution, that night I was a convert to Creationism. Here and now, fully formed. Hulloder…
Finally the crowd lets the band leave. They would have felt better about it had they known that the identical one – two punch of Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin would be back in this same club that summer, just months away, with the same five dollar cover. Only this time Zep would be headlining with Tull opening. I was in attendance for that and they both also killed as you would expect, although it was much, much sweatier.
But speaking of headliners, let’s not forget Vanilla Fudge. The Fudge had a couple of hits and a semi- impressive rhythm section of Tim Bogart on bass and Carmine Appice on a double bass drum kit. Carmine was all about the show and twirled his sticks almost constantly. In fact, the whole band was mostly show and little go, show biz following (unfortunately for them) new art. The lead vocalist/organist started to do this weird little arm dance with his left arm as he sang and you could hear the beginning of some twittering in the audience. A mature person might sympathize and go, jeez, how fun can it be to follow a very hungry, newborn Led Zeppelin and their monster set — with Jethro Tull pitching in — showing the audience what rock music can and will sound like when at its best. What band in their right mind would want to do that?
But at 17, I was not mature and when the crowd started lightly booing at about the tenth time the arm dance showed up, I was more than OK with that. I simply did not give a shit: I had just heard the future.
This is great: brings back (rare but still) other cellular-transforming moments of watching music happen in those days….what’s hard to get out of space/time context is that the new music was coming out a world dominated by circular music that none of us could get out of our heads…that whole top ten drive, that was the backbone of the industry that had to be broken. And did the fact that it wasn’t possible to go home and immediately download cuts from that concert you just saw…did that fact make the moment more intense, like you had to memorize what you were hearing to tide you over? I’d say yes. Nothing against progress; there’s just always a cost.