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Baltimore got a whole lotta love from Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin in 1970: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Jimmy Page.
Led Zeppelin in 1970: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Jimmy Page. (Michael Ochs Archives)

Forty-four years ago this month, Led Zeppelin stormed onto the stage at the Baltimore Civic Center for a concert that ended with 10 people arrested and some 4,000 ticketless music fans milling about outside.

"Groups of disappointed concert-goers rushed around the building, trying  doors," The Sun reported of the July 23, 1973, concert, which was seen by some 14,500 lucky ticketholders. "At one point, around 200 ran toward the east entrance from the overpass but turned back when the doors were found to be locked, police said."

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A pane of glass in a door on the Lombard Street side of the building was broken, the paper reported. Among the people arrested, eight were charged with disorderly conduct, one with assault, one with possession of a weapon.

And that was just one of the storied heavy metal gods' several appearances in the Baltimore area between 1969, a year they opened for The Who at Merriweather Post Pavilion, and 1977, when they played four shows at Prince George's County's Capital Centre during their last American tour.

Led Zeppelin began showing the Baltimore area a whole lotta love almost from the band's inception, staging concerts in these parts that have delighted fans and become fixtures of local lore.

The group first played the Civic Center (now known as Royal Farms Arena) on Feb. 16. 1969, a little more than a month after the release of their first album. The following May 25, they were the bottom half of a much fabled double bill with The Who at Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion. It was the only time these two behemothly loud bands would appear on the same bill, and those lucky enough to have been there have been bragging about it ever since. (Washington Post critic Richard Cowan left the show unimpressed; much of Zep's performance was "more conducive to boredom than musically induced languor," he wrote).

Robert Plant (on right) and guitarist Jimmy Page onstage in 1976.
Robert Plant (on right) and guitarist Jimmy Page onstage in 1976. (david Allen/Michael Ochs Archives)

Zep would go on to play the Civic Center thrice more, on April 5, 1970, and June 11, 1972, as well as the 1973 concert. Of the 1972 concert, Sun critic James D. Dilts, clearly more cognizant of the band's prowess than his Washington Post counterpart had been three years earlier, especially praised singer Robert Plant. Of his vocals on "Dazed and Confused" and "Whole Lotta Love," Dilts wrote, "Plant's amazingly mobile voice, as variable an instrument as [Jimmy] Page's guitar and capable of almost as many special effects, is used to its greatest effect here -- uncannily echoing the guitar phrases [or] turning up in the ensemble sound in unexpected but usually correct places."

(Dilts was not as impressed by John Bonham's by-then trademark drum solo, which he said was played "at a consistent level of dispiritedness." But he did give Bonham kudos for ignoring the can of beer one disgruntled fan threw, striking the gong on his drum kit and exploding. "Unfazed, and perhaps freshly inspired, he drove to the conclusion of his solo," Dilts wrote.)

After the '73 show, the band's area appearances were restricted to the Capital Centre. But their ability to incite a frenzy in their fans remained unabated. Some 2,500 fans stormed the arena during a Feb. 10, 1975, show; they were rebuffed by a phalanx of 100 Prince George's County police. Nine persons were arrested during the 10-minute confrontation, according to a report in The Sun, and several police cars were vandalized.

"None of the fans made it into the building," The Sun reported, "and the concert went on as scheduled."

(In a tragic postscript, a man and woman in their early 20s were found in a car in Halethorpe the next morning, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. Ticket stubs from the concert were discovered in the car.)

Tantalizingly, there may have been another Zep show in the area, on Jan. 20, 1969. Unconfirmed legends have it that Zeppelin, just eight days after the release of their first album (and on the same day Richard Nixon was inaugurated as president), played for a few dozen people at the Wheaton Youth Center, in Wheaton, Montgomery County. No official record of the show exists, and many doubt it ever happened. But just as many believe that it did; some insist that they were there. Filmmaker Jeff Krulik even made a documentary about it, "Led Zeppelin Played Here." Debate over whether the show actually happened or not rages on.

Classic Robert Plant, onstage.
Classic Robert Plant, onstage. (Neil Zlozwer/KRT)

In May '77, when Zep made their last appearances at the Capital Centre, the band was in fine form, according to a May 27 review in The Sun by Tom Basham, headlined, "Led Zeppelin unleashes some devastation with theatrics to match."

"Page is a virtuoso and he engaged his guitar in a whirling, night-long dance," Basham wrote. "At times the instrument would lead, almost flinging its player across the stage. Other times, Page would take command, slinging the guitar across his hips, knees or crotch, and bending it to his will."

Those shows were among the last Led Zeppelin would play in the U.S. On July 30, as the band was getting ready to play New Orleans' Superdome, Plant received word that his 5-year-old son, Karac, had died. Plant returned home, the rest of the tour was canceled and the band never returned to these shores. In September 1980, less than a month before they were to tour the U.S. for the first time in three years, Bonham died. Save for a single show in December 2007 in London, Led Zeppelin would never tour again.

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