Original Artist: Led Zeppelin
Original Album: Houses of the Holy (1973)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2011-07-21
Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” perhaps their most psychedelic offering – particularly in live performance – is a sequel of sorts. Taken from the perspective of the Viking widow, waiting in the frigid winds of Thor for word from the disastrous Battle of Stamford Bridge, it represents the sorrowful eulogy for the vanquished Vikings who first struck oar for western shores with the more aggressive battle cry of “Immigrant Song.” The Viking warriors never gave and certainly did not ask for quarter. However, the 24 boatloads (out of 300!) Vikings who remained at the conclusion of their final solo attempt to rape and pillage the North of England, were shown mercy nonetheless. Ironically, their defeat paved the way for the Norman conquest of England which began at the Battle of Hastings three weeks later. The Norman defeat of the Anglo-Saxons changed the course of English history and undoubtedly the rest of the world’s future. A future that will ultimately conclude in the “Battle of Evermore” more formally known to the Vikings as Ragnarok.
“No Quarter” was originally recorded during the 1971 Headley Grange sessions for Led Zeppelin IV. The Headley Grange version has an unnervingly quicker pace and just doesn’t carry the somber darkness of the more languid Houses of the Holy track, recorded at Island Studios in 1972 and released in 1973. Following its release, as captured on the subsequent live album and MSG (7/27-7/29/73) concert film The Song Remains the Same, “No Quarter” became an extended concert centerpiece that featured the improvisational keyboard virtuosity of John Paul Jones. Starting with their 1975 tour these forays of Zeppelin’s “Keyboard Army of One” also included a brief classical piano concerto often featuring Rachmaninoff pieces. The hands down most epic performance, clocking in at well over half an hour long, was at the Kingdome in Seattle (7/17/77).
Led Zeppelin, “No Quarter” – 1973
Considering “No Quarter” was John Paul Jones’ signature piece, it is not surprising that Page would feature it prominently in his Vida Blue performances both with and without the Spam Allstars. However, since Vida Blue did not have a guitarist to stand in for Jimmy Page, the choice to adapt the fuzzed-out crunch of the Les Paul to the keyboard was pretty bold.
Phish debuted “No Quarter” during the 6/1/11 “Tweezer” at the PNC Bank Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. This of course continued the trend started with the “Tweezeppelin” medley they had unleashed during the 2010 Halloween run in Atlantic City. Where the medley in AC was rough and raw, the PNC “No Quarter” had the polished smoothness and razor sharp edge of the finest Norse Vikingesverd. Trey’s guitar tone carried the requisite muscle. Page’s keys and vocals evoked the briny deep of Aegir. While Mike and Fish pounded out the thunderous rhythm with their respective Hammer of the Gods.
Phish, “No Quarter” – 6/1/11, Holmdel, NJ
What prompted Phish to get the Led out in Holmdel and release this classic Zeppelin from its hangar is open to speculation. Certainly, Lakehurst, New Jersey, the site of the Hindenberg disaster featured on the cover of Zeppelin’s debut album is nearby. But digging deeper we find that the PNC Bank Center is less than a mile from the Holmdel Horn Antenna. This antenna, its shape clearly modeled after those on the Viking helmet, was used by Bell Laboratories to conduct the Project Echo passive satellite communications program. Echo 1A and Echo 2, the satellites used in these experiments, were borne aloft by Thor-Delta and Thor-Agena rockets respectively. These experiments of course have lead to the widespread use of the cell phone. Without the cell phone, there would be no couch tour. Without couch tour, Phish lot may well devolve into a scene of wook-on-wook carnage that resembles the battlefield at Stamford Bridge, where “No Quarter” is asked and “No Quarter” is given.
No doubt inspired by the Viking Resort on the eastern shore of Keuka Lake a few miles north of Watkins Glen, Phish took the Viking Spirit to Super Ball IX. This 7/3/11 second set performance of “No Quarter” emerges by way of a seamless segue from the sea of ambience that concluded the “Down with Disease” jam that it followed. This version picks up where the PNC “No Quarter” left off, and serves as a powerful tip of the helmet to the ghosts of the Led-footed race car drivers who were not always successful in their attempts to navigate the twists and turns of the Glen’s road-course track and instead reached Valhalla.