Yeah, sure, there's
that old band he used to front. But the thing that makes Robert
Plant such an inspiring force in music today is that the singer has
never stopped listening to new music and incorporating the
influences he loves into his own work.
The 56-year-old former golden god of Led Zeppelin opened his show
Saturday night at the sold-out Auditorium Theatre with a radically
different version of "No Quarter," reshaping the moody Zep classic
as a sort of tribal chant with minimal guitar and most of his
talented five-piece band the Strange Sensation playing ethnic hand
A dozen songs later, Plant ended the set proper with the anthemic
"When the Levee Breaks." Once again, he led the group in taking the
classic-rock standard to a strange new world, rendering it with
mandolin and standup bass and bringing a strong north African
influence to the crunching metallic blues of the original.
Plant introduced the tune by paying homage to two of the many
musicians he admires -- Chicago blues great Otis Clay and the
Saharan group Tinariwen -- and noting that he had spent the
afternoon before his own gig at the Old Town School of Folk Music's
annual Folk & Roots Festival. He chastised anyone in his audience
who hadn't gone out to hear Clay at the fest, as he had, and
encouraged them to turn out Sunday to hear Tinariwen's Touareg
In fact, both of those influences and many others could be heard
in Plant's own performance, via his reinterpretations of Zep tunes
and cuts such as "Shine It All Around," "Freedom Fries" and the
title track from his strong new solo album, appropriately titled
The voice isn't what it used to be -- it no longer soars to the
highest registers it reached when Plant was a marauding Viking
warrior -- and one suspects a touch of electronic enhancement from
the mixing board. But he's still a more impressive instrument than
many singers a third his age, and he moved with a supple, feline
grace as sweet-smelling incense wafted from the monitors at his
feet. (Once a hippie, always a hippie.)
Zep tunes outnumbered new tunes 2-to-1 throughout the relatively
short show, with a cover of Bonnie Dobson's folk classic "Morning
Dew," popularized by the Grateful Dead, thrown in for good measure.
The night's only disappointment was that the singer didn't feel free
to sample more of his new album, or include standout tracks from
earlier in his solo career.
History and past accomplishments weigh heavily upon all of the
rock giants from the '60s and '70s. Thankfully, Plant joins the
minority devoted to constant reinvention and opposed to nostalgia --
a group led by Bob Dylan and Neil Young -- as opposed to the faction
represented by the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, who too often
seem like living jukeboxes and oldies acts.
With top tickets priced at $85, Plant knew that the majority of
the 4,300 fans at the Auditorium expected Zeppelin songs, so
Zeppelin songs he delivered. But to his credit, he either rearranged
them in new and challenging ways, or dug for the deepest nuggets he
could find, including the beautiful acoustic track "That's the Way,"
the rollicking "Gallows Pole" and the great Zep B-side "Hey Hey What
Can I Do."
Opening the show were the Sights, a guitar, drums and keyboard
trio from Detroit, which brought R&B, blues and gospel influences
into the garage a la another Motown combo, the White Stripes.
The Sights show a lot of promise, but guitarist-vocalist Eddie
Baranek lacks Jack White's charisma and his economical way with a
hook, and he seems to have watched way too many showboaters live
from the Fillmore, mistaking nonstop soloing for musical excitement.