May 14, 1973
New Orleans, LA US
Rock and Roll, Celebration Day, (Bring It On Home intro) Black Dog, Over the Hills and Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I've Been Loving You, No Quarter, The Song Remains the Same, Rain Song, Dazed and Confused (incl. San Francisco), Stairway to Heaven, Moby Dick, Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love (incl. Let That Boy Boogie), Communication Breakdown.
Press: Stairway to Bourbon Street: Led Zeppelin in New Orleans
It’s May of 1973 and the British Gods of Rock—Led Zeppelin—sweep into New Orleans at the height of their mysterious and epochal powers as arguably the best rock band in the world. They play a strange concert that night in the Municipal Auditorium; after all, it is New Orleans and Zeppelin is on stage playing their best stuff to a bunch of stoners and hippies and, well, you get the picture. “Jimmy suggestively bowed Robert’s bum during ‘Dazed and Confused,’” says rock journalist Stephen Davis in Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga.
“[The Municipal Auditorium] wasn’t state of the art even for those days,” remembers former Atlantic Records executive Phillip Rauls (pronounced like Rolls-Royce, just like the kind Keith Moon drove into a hotel swimming pool.) “It was in a rundown area of town.”
Rauls remembers very well those hours just before Led Zeppelin took the stage at New Orleans Municipal Auditorium on the night of May 14, 1973. “In those days, we partied hard,” he says. “We partied before the concerts as well, and such was the case with that particular event. Hell, we were in New Orleans having a Dixie beer and a bowl of gumbo! We were all pretty sky-high if you know what I mean.”
Rock critic Jon Newlin wrote a review about the concert in the May 19, 1973 issue of Figaro, a review that is either a brilliant piece of writing or nonsensical rubbish as the Brits say. He described Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant as “a verdical odalisque with a shiny, cylindrical neck like Fernand Leger’s Big Julie, a cross between a peachy Jacobean kewpie doll, and a hard 40’s blonde (on the order of, say, Lizabeth Scott) after 800 volts worth of spoolies. Along with a zany, dumb, rubber band singing voice, he has a cagey galumphing balls-of-the-feet dance style.”
Newlin described Jimmy Page as, “a sequined lesser marsupial who hardly ever looks up from his instrument, plays guitar like Renoir said he painted—“avec mabite.” His playing is a fine, shiny manifestation of the British appetite and capacity for violence, with plenty of sudden, slow, watch-for-falling rocks cadenzas.”
And apparently Newlin was not too enamored with the band’s music either, “What really set my dentures on edge was ‘Moby Dick,’ the electrocardiogram solo, which resembles a marathon dance for clubfoots and is about as interesting as a week-old black market club sandwich.”
“This was the poison pen era,” says Rauls. “Zeppelin hated rock critics.” So great was Zeppelin’s disdain of music critics that they considered a negative concert review to be a reaffirmation of their greatness.
“The Auditorium had a low balcony and some dumb fucker had taken too much LSD. I remember a guy actually falling from the balcony down into the audience and fortunately, it wasn’t a big fall because it was a low balcony,” says Rauls. “The band kept on playing and the fire marshals took the guy out. I guess he cushioned himself but he was pretty screwed up.”
As Atlantic Records’ Promotion & Marketing Director for the Southern Region, Phillip Rauls was well acquainted with Zeppelin and heavily involved in the activities of that evening in ’73. He was the guy who would fly in ahead of the band and call on the media and the local promoters and the radio stations like the WRNOs and WTIXs of the world to convince them to play the records of Atlantic’s recording artists.
“WRNO was supportive to Led Zeppelin. Joe Costello, the GM, let the guys run the show,” says Rauls. “You had Captain Humble and Bobby Reno. The first record that WTIX played was “Stairway to Heaven” and it took an Act of Congress to get that record on there,” remembers Rauls. “Stairway to Heaven” was a major breakthrough because up to that time they were really an FM radio band and for Top 40 AM to end up laying that single—it was a major breakthrough.”
As a Memphis boy, Rauls had something in common with Zeppelin. “They always wanted to talk about blues music and Memphis music, and that was the small bond that I had with them.” He found Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to be very polite, very British, but they could get down with the best of them.
Before they left New Orleans, Atlantic Records boss Ahmet Ertegun threw a party for the band at Cosimo Matassa’s Jazz City. Soul food comprised the menu that night and all of New Orleans’ best R&B and rock legends would perform: Willie Tee, Art Neville and the Meters, Ernie K-Doe, the Wild Magnolias, Snooks Eaglin and the Olympia Brass Band. Rauls helped coordinate that party and remembers the event like it was yesterday.
“They didn’t need some ritzy ballroom,” he says. “Just going to a funky, soulful recording studio in a beat down part of New Orleans and to meet the guys they grew up listening to—they were in seventh heaven. Willie Tee was still alive, Ernie K-Doe was there, Professor Longhair—all these guys were former Atlantic artists that Ertegun had a relationship with. To bring them out at Cosimo’s party, it gave the band a woody.”