Robert Plant @ Sydney Entertainment Centre (28/3/2013)
Everyone heading to the Sydney Entertainment Centre on Thursday would have been sure of one thing – that they were about to experience arguably the greatest rock vocalist of the past 40 years. There were some doubts, however. Would this be a trip down Led Zeppelin memory lane? Or would Robert Plant be exploring his fascination with world music and other decidedly non-rock diversions? The good news is that Plant delivered on both fronts, with a set that honoured some of his greatest moments yet recast them in a new and fascinating light.
Opener ‘Tin Pan Alley’ was the perfect way to ease the audience into the sonic world they would inhabit for the next 90 minutes. With its low-key beginning the song erupted into a ‘70s glitter stomp guitar explosion with Plant kicking the mic stand high, signaling that the band were here to both rock and mesmerise. Plant still shows flashes of the Viking rock god persona that defined him in the ‘70s, but he now balances live it with a self-effacing sense of humour and genial personality, all the while wandering the stage like a mystical druid figure channeling and steering the music.
The band contains members of his ‘00s band The Strange Sensation so it was perhaps no surprise that all of the non-Zeppelin songs (aside from Howlin’ Wolf and Bukka White covers) came from their Mighty ReArranger album. The other songs received the same musical treatment: Acoustic and electric guitars, heavy and complex rhythms, and a strong electronic component that at times gave the songs a heady psychedelic sound akin to the work of David Holmes and .
“At two points in the show Plant made reference to seeing us again next year and ‘soon’ with a cheeky grin.”
Of course, the biggest cheers were for the songs that defined ‘70s folk and hard rock for a generation. Plant admitted late in the show that many of the crowd would have been playing “spot the tune” due to the way the band re-configured and re-imagined iconic songs. There was ‘Black Dog’, played in a slow voodoo style; an African-tinged ‘Whole Lotta Love’; and a stripped-back and groovy ‘Heartbreaker’. Surprisingly, the crowd were wholly respectful and joyfully immersed in the alternative versions with little sign of the Dylan-esque dissent or Neil Young fan frustration that often comes from such musical diversions.
Some Zeppelin songs were played close to their original recorded incarnations, particularly a wonderful acoustic take on ‘Going To California’ and the warm jazz tones of ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’. They highlighted how intact Plant’s voice is after four decades of use. He can still get primal and urgent when required, but it was his subtle melodic phrasing and that yearning ache that conjured the more magical moments.
At two points in the show Plant made reference to seeing us again next year and “soon” with a cheeky grin. Could there be a tour on the cards for the mighty Led Zeppelin themselves next year? Nothing spoken, nothing confirmed, but the embrace of their back catalogue and the warmth and respect Plant showed for the songs suggests the time might be right for a another trip back in time with the old firm.
Tin Pan Valley
Friends (Led Zeppelin cover)
Spoonful (Howlin’ Wolf cover)
Black Dog (Led Zeppelin cover)
Going to California (Led Zeppelin cover)
What Is and What Should Never Be (Led Zeppelin cover)
Heartbreaker (Led Zeppelin cover)
Four Sticks (Led Zeppelin cover)
Funny in My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixin’ to Die)
Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover)
Bron Y Aur Stomp (Led Zeppelin cover)
Rock and Roll (Led Zeppelin cover)