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Monday, 29 October 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Robert Plant (Live Review By Paul H)

Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters, Wales Millennium Centre

In August this year Robert Anthony Plant CBE turned 70. Just take that in for a minute. 70. The rock god who fronted the world’s biggest band of all time, Led Zeppelin, is 70. He is still the most incredible performer.

This year I've been fortunate enough to see a number of the rock and metal world’s elder statesmen continuing to ply their trade to a high standard. From Graham Bonnet, to Rob Halford, Glenn Hughes and (twice) Biff Byford amongst others. None of them, as fabulous as they all are, can hold a torch to Percy. His sheer presence penetrates and intoxicates, and whilst I was too young to breath it all in as Zeppelin ruled the world in the 1970s, it is easy to see why his 20 year old self would have been a bit too much for so many fans. In a time when giants walked the earth, he was the alpha male. Today, healthy, mischievous and thoughtful, his tousled mane at shoulder length, the man simply glides across the stage with an ease that cannot be learnt.

The opening act for the evening’s intimate(ish) performance was Dartmoor born Seth Lakeman (7). Lakeman, at 41, comes from a musical and talented family and he’s been making music since 1998, with an impressive discography which contains several solo albums. Lakeman is a folk musician but plays it with a rock edge. Accompanied by an impressive backing band, Lakeman, who sings, playing tenor guitar, fiddle and viola, has been touring with Plant for much of the year. His foot stomping tunes, including a couple from his new release Well Worn Path got the crowd enthusiastically clapping and hollering from the start. Lakeman’s music is a little too twee for me, but I appreciated his energy, and obvious talent. He’s touring a set of headline shows later this year with a date at The Tramshed on 18th November, should you be interested.

Precisely on the advertised set time, the lights dimmed and African tribal chanting and sounds filled the air. When the lights dim at WMC they really do drop to almost pitch darkness but from our position high in the Upper Circle we could see Robert Plant and The Sensational Shape Shifters (10) make their way on stage. With superb lighting which was a highlight in itself, the band eased into an amended and free style version of When The Levee Breaks, complete with Lakeman adding fiddle. In fact, Lakeman flitted on and off the stage throughout the evening, his fiddle playing perfectly complimenting the superb guitar work of long standing Plant sidekicks Justin Adams and Skin Tyson.

Having seen Plant several times before, quality was assured and the only question that needed answering was which songs he was going to play. With a vast catalogue, he does vary the set list from night to night and here he opted to dip in and out of several Zeppelin songs, with breathtaking versions of The Rain Song, completed perfectly by some beautiful interplay between Tyson and keyboard player John Baggott, Ramble On and The Lemon Song leaving the majority of the audience holding their breath. I say the majority, because once again the odd member of the Welsh crowd appeared unable to behave or respect their fellow audience members. In particular, a couple of lowlife pond dwellers were particularly irritating and appeared unable to contain their excitement at having been let out for the evening as they hollered and hooted at the most inappropriate times. Luckily for them they were seated far to our left and rear, but it was astonishing that those sat near them didn’t address the matter. Enjoyment yes. music takes and grips us in different ways but for fuck’s sake, have a thought and a bit of respect for those around you.

Ignoring the idiots with typical cool, Plant didn’t neglect his recent works with a couple of tracks from his two recent albums with The Shapeshifters; Turn It Up and Little Maggie from Lullaby … And The Ceaseless Roar and The May Queen and the title track from 2017’s delicious Carry Fire all included in the setlist. One of Plant and band’s subtle but impressive skills is how they manage to segue each track comfortably with each other, and with each Zeppelin song given new refrains and arrangements, only history and your prior knowledge of the songs would allow you to establish which song was less than a year old and which had almost half a century in age. 

Further tracks previously covered by Zeppelin which featured in Plant’s set included a magnificent Gallows Pole, or to give it the correct title, The Maid Freed From The Gallows, a 200 year old traditional song, whilst Fixin’ To Die, originally attributed to Bukka White held most of the audience entranced as Plant explained the dark origins of the song which can be traced to the Mississippi slave trade. Another cover, this time one of Zeppelin’s more famous tunes, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (originally a Joan Baez song) was given a lengthy and astonishingly powerful makeover with Adams astounding playing given ample time to explore and expand. With the band introduced, a fitting climax to the show included an extended Black Dog, before Plant wistfully gathered his troops around him for a fitting and well deserved standing ovation.

Robert Plant is an incredible performer, intoxicating, beguiling and totally captivating. His voice remains crystal clear, and he comfortably hit the high notes that he managed in the 1960s, albeit at a slightly changed key and timing. If you’ve never seen this genuine rock god at work, it should be on your bucket list. Just book it on a night when the arseholes in the audience are back in their basement rooms.

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