I’m assuming that’s the photographer’s pit. Look how many there are. And this was early in Led Zeppelin’s career. Astonishing.
Not a special press area – that was just the crowd! This was Milan, July 5, 1971, and it was absolute pandemonium. Check this angle: they’re hanging from the scaffolding!
Before the night was over, fights and a number of fires broke out in the crowd, police used tear gas, which made things worse, and the band bailed after an intense 40 minute set.
There’s a great account of the chaos at Led Zeppelin.com. Excerpts:
“Bastardi!… Assassini!”, cries out an Italian youth as clouds of tear gas and stones fill the air. Police attack with increased force as small gangs continue their assault. But the violence would only get worse before the riotous night was over. It was war alright, in the battlefield of Milan’s Vigorelli Velodromo and caught in the middle of the melee was Led Zeppelin….
“We were still playing in a cloud of tear gas but it was hopeless, so we said ‘Blow this, let’s cut it really short.’ We did one more number and went right in to ‘Whole Lotta Love and the whole crowd jumped up”, said Page. “By this point there’d been about 40 minutes of tear gas attacks and finally somebody heaved a bottle at the police. It was not entirely unexpected since the crowd had been getting bombarded for no reason – but of course the moment a bottle went up, that’s what the police had been waiting for.”
Choking and gasping for air, desperate fans began fleeing – some towards the stage. The band had seen enough and fled the stage. Thick clouds of tear gas and smoke blocked their only passageway as they attempted to find a way out, with a steady succession of gas bombs still exploding. Locking themselves in a small room backstage, they tried to catch their breath. Realizing some of their equipment was still on stage, in the middle of the ensuing riot roadies braved the war zone again to salvage what was left, including Bonham’s drums who was certain they were now destroyed. An assortment of projectiles including Molotov cocktails, bottles and stones were thrust into the air.
“The roadies had to be carried off in stretchers, just for trying to save the gear”, recalls John Paul Jones. “The police had cordoned off all the audience around the back and there was a big line of policemen holding them there. The only way they could move was forward on to the stage – about 10,000 kids were forced up through the stage. It was a war.”
After an hour of waiting in their barricaded backstage room, armed officers provided an escort back to their hotel. Fans were still fleeing the area, hanging onto passing trucks and running in the streets. …By the end of the evening, an estimated 40 people were injured, 16 arrested, 4 cars vandalized and the Vigorelli Velodromo sustained an enormous amount of damage.”
Although Page and Plant would return to Milan in 1998, this was Led Zeppelin’s first and last trip to Italy.
fwiw, for the time they were onstage, they sounded like beasts. There are a handful of low-res clips floating around on YouTube that give some idea of how overwhelming the show must have been, even before the fires and tear gas.
In the meantime, Milan also yielded one of the best Led Zeppelin posters ever…
….and one of their more awkward magazine covers, featuring a photo taken before the show (Jimmy would wear the same pants on stage). I’ll repost a better version of the cover photo soon!