Why Robert Plant Refused to Play Led Zeppelin Songs Live
Robert Plant knew John Bonham's death in 1980 had brought Led Zeppelin to an end. "There's absolutely no point. No point at all," he said in his first post-Zeppelin interview in September 1982, two years later.
"There's certain people you don't do without in life," he added. "You don't keep things going for the sake of it. There's no functional purpose for keeping things going. For whose convenience? Nobody's, really."
His solo debut, Pictures at Eleven, had arrived in the summer of 1982. His second, 1983's The Principle of Moments, moved still further away from Led Zeppelin's heavy-blues sound. As far as Plant was concerned, looking backward wasn't helpful. He still cared about his former bandmates, of course, but it was important to Plant to keep moving.
"I miss Jimmy [Page] a lot," he said, "but we've been pals for years and years, and we had a relationship that was built out of certain standards. Although we're totally dissimilar, totally unalike, we knew exactly how far to take each other. When you've been with a bloke for 14 years, you naturally miss certain parts, musically and personality-wise. But there's a long way to go before I stop singing, and right now I'm having a great time with my own guys."
This forward-thinking mentality extended to his set lists. Plant would play his first concert as a solo artist on Aug. 26, 1983, at the Peoria Civic Center in Illinois, launching a tour in support of The Principle of Moments. He didn't perform any Led Zeppelin songs that night. The same would hold true for the next five years, with only a couple of exceptions – "Whole Lotta Love" in Manchester, U.K., in December 1983, and "In the Evening" in Stourbridge in December 1987.
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By then, Led Zeppelin had already endured an objectively disastrous reunion at Live Aid. Still, Plant had a change of heart. He finally began incorporating a more Zeppelin-esque feel into 1988's Now and Zen, which also included direct samples of his former band's songs and a guest appearance by Page.
"I've stopped apologizing to myself for having this great period of success and financial acceptance," Plant told Rolling Stone back then. "It's [time] to get on and enjoy it now. I want to have a great time instead of making all these excuses."
Plant finally began regular performances of Led Zeppelin songs on the Now and Zen tour. "I feel regenerated singing them," he added. "It's very powerful stuff." Much better-received reunions with his former bandmates would follow, as Plant continued to re-interpret various Zeppelin songs with others during his solo shows.
He even managed to surprise himself: During a concert in Reykjavík, Iceland shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Plant decided to spontaneously launch into "Immigrant Song." The vocally challenging opening cut from 1970's Led Zeppelin III is not exactly for the faint of heart. "They'd never done it before," Plant later told the Los Angeles Times. "We just hit it, and bang — there it was. I thought, 'Oh, I didn't think I could still do that.'"
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