Led Zeppelin's Final U.K. Concert at Knebworth 1979: Was It As Bad As History Made It?

Publish date:
Updated on
Image placeholder title

On this day in 1979, Led Zeppelin performed its final U.K. concert at the 1979 Knebworth Festival on August 11.

It wasn't a triumph.

This was Zeppelin's first concert since the death of Robert Plant's son during the 1977 North American tour, and they hadn't performed in England for four years. The musical culture shift brought on by punk rock since their last British shows also gave the band the mantle of "dinosaur act" with some younger fans. All of this likely caused a bit of angst in the Zeppelin camp — especially with manager Peter Grant wanting the band's return to the stage to be as epic as possible. Preparations for the Knebworth shows on August 4 and August 11 included rehearsals at a London film studio, two warm-up gigs in Copenhagen, a "walk-through" of the festival site, and a soundcheck on the Knebworth stage.

While Zeppelin reportedly received the largest fee ever for their performance at the time, and the crowds at the festival were among the largest they had ever played to, the somewhat muted reaction of the audiences was not the response of rock fans experiencing an epic comeback.

"Knebworth was useless," said Plant after the event. "It was no good, because we weren't ready to do it. There was so much expectation there, and the least we could have done was to have been confident enough to kill. We maimed the beast for life, but we didn't kill it."

Thirteen months after Knebworth, on September 25, 1980, drummer John Bonham passed away while rehearsals for a North America tour were underway. A statement by the band on December 4, 1980 stated, "We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were."

But, given the space of 38 years, were Led Zeppelin's Knebworth performances as rusty and sluggish and, well, as awful as some media outlets of the time had reported? Watch the August 11, 1979 concert and see for yourself...