Led Zeppelin emerged fully formed. Their self-titled debut, which turns 50 on Saturday, catalogued the sounds that would come to define the band, from stinging riff rock to epic, improv-heavy blues and moody acoustic folk.
Onstage, the band was just as much of a juggernaut. They started out their first U.S. tour in December 1968 as openers, setting the stage for Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly and others, but by the end of the run in early ’69, they were topping the bill. Despite having been together for only about six months, Zeppelin were an extraordinarily tight band by the time of a spring 1969 tour that saw them hopping back and forth between the U.K. and Scandinavia.
It’s this tour that gave rise to some of the greatest-ever footage of Zeppelin playing live: just over 30 minutes of material recorded at the Gladsaxe Teen Club in Gladsaxe, Denmark — the same venue where the quartet of Robert Plant, Jimmy Plage, John Paul Jones and John Bonham played their first ever live show, under the name the New Yardbirds.
If you want to see Zeppelin rocking a concert hall or arena, you have plenty of options to choose from, including the Royal Albert Hall show from January 1970, the famed Song Remains the Same footage from Madison Square Garden in July ’73, or the Earls Court gig in ’75. But the Gladsaxe footage is special for a couple reasons. First, it gives us an extended glimpse at the group gigging before they were superstars; this is Zeppelin when they were simply a hungry, ass-kicking young band doing their thing. (And there’s something extremely charming, not to mention surreal, about seeing such a legendary group play to a seated audience — at the beginning we see the attendees file in and politely claim spots on the floor.) Second, unlike most of the later Zeppelin concert films, this one features relatively stable, democratic shots, allowing us to watch the entire band pretty much the whole time, instead of just endless clips of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page preening with tiny snippets of John Paul Jones and John Bonham mixed in. Zeppelin were one of the most well-balanced rock bands of all time, and this is one of the few filmed documents of them that lets you really relish that fact over an extended period.
Like the debut album itself, the Gladsaxe set list plays like a concise Zeppelin sampler platter, giving fans a taste of all the group’s many fortes, in the form of four songs from Led Zeppelin. There’s a ripping “Communication Breakdown”; an alternately chill and torrential “Dazed and Confused” — if you remain unconvinced that Bonham was in fact the greatest rock drummer of all time, pay close attention from 4:00 through 4:20 and get back to us — that features plenty of Page’s trademark (proto–Spinal Tap) bowed guitar wizardry; a wrenching “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”; and a jammy, extended take on “How Many More Times.”
By the end of that year, Zeppelin were huge stars, headlining Carnegie Hall, San Francisco’s Winterland and the Boston Garden on their fall ’69 American tour. That intimate March gig would be their last visit to the Gladsaxe Teen Club — their next show in Denmark was at Copenhagen’s 3,000-capacity K.B. Hallen — and maybe the last time ever that Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham played to such a demure crowd. For those of us not lucky enough to have been there, this video makes for one hell of a time machine.