In June 1980, Led Zeppelin embarked on a 14-date tour of Europe. Beginning on June 17, in Dortmund, Germany, the tour would also wrap up in Germany, with a July 7 show at Eissporthalle an der Jafféstraße in Berlin.
Tragically, that Berlin show would prove to be the band's last ever performance with drummer John Bonham, who passed away on September 25, 1980, after a day of heavy drinking. He was just 32 years old.
Though Bonham's health was already in decline throughout the summer trek (he collapsed three songs into the band's June 27, 1980 show in Nuremberg, Germany, forcing the band to cancel the rest of the show), you can't hear any evidence of it in the soundboard recording – posted below – of the band's July 7 gig.
Throughout the 14-song set – which included a number of tunes (In the Evening, Hot Dog and All My Love) from the band's 1979 In Through the Out Door album alongside classics like Black Dog, Kashmir, Whole Lotta Love and Stairway to Heaven – Bonham was in typically thunderous form. Like the rest of the band, Bonham was all too eager to show audiences that – even after a decade-plus at rock's pinnacle – the mighty Zepp still had plenty of gas in the tank.
Though their commercial standing had never been higher at the dawn of the '80s, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Bonham were jittery about the band's place in rock at the time.
The band's August 4 and 11, 1979 mega-shows in Knebworth, England – designed to be a triumphant live return to their home country after an absence of four years – were polarizing. Many fans felt that the gaudy production of the concerts – which were attended by hundreds of thousands of people in total – distracted from the music itself, which was more than a little ragged at times.
Of course, by this time, punk and especially new wave had gone from buzzy sub-genres to the kings of the hill, rendering the long-form, blues-based music of Zeppelin and their late-60s/early 70s contemporaries largely out of fashion.
With that in mind, the quartet viewed their summer 1980 gigs as a reset. No big light show, no lasers, no white smoke – not even any lengthy stand-alone solos or flamboyant outfits.
Even the venues on the tour were significantly downsized, the small Western and Central European arenas the band tore through on it being a far cry from the masses at Knebworth and the enormous arena and stadium American crowds the band had entertained on their last tour, all the way back in 1977.
The success of the 1980 European tour gave the band a jolt of momentum, and persuaded them to book a North American tour for the fall of 1980, with a similarly scaled-down approach.
It was during rehearsals for that tour – which was scheduled to begin on October 17 – that Bonham passed away.
We'll obviously never quite know how Led Zeppelin would have evolved from 1980 forward had Bonham lived, but the soundboard recording from their last show with him certainly suggests that they had plenty of musical fire left.