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Robert Plant plays CityFolk: 'I’ll probably retire when I run out of breath'

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Robert Plant plays CityFolk: 'I’ll probably retire when I run out of breath'

Lynn Saxberg    |  September 13, 2019

Robert Plant - 9:15 p.m. Sunday, City Stage, CityFolk, Lansdowne Park
Tickets and info: cityfolkfestival.com


When it comes to working into one’s sunset years, Robert Plant relates more to Bob Dylan than Elton John.

Although the 71-year-old rock legend expressed the utmost respect for his fellow Brit, John, who’s 72 and circumnavigating the globe on an epic farewell tour, the former Led Zeppelin frontman said he’s nowhere near ready to follow his footsteps.

“Elton is looking for more time to spend with his family, and that’s not a bad idea,” Plant said in an interview. “But my family always says, ‘Keep going, Dad.’

“Elton has his own ideas and everybody does, but I haven’t actually split the atom. I haven’t reached a point where I’ve got nothing left, and I feel pretty good about what I do. I love to tour and I love to sing and twist the songs around.”

It’s a mindset that puts him more in tune with 78-year-old Dylan, who once gave Plant the advice to keep going as long as possible.

“I respect and admire him, not only for waking me up as a kid, a teenager, but also for the fact that he takes such joy in re-entering his own adventures from a different angle. He works more than I do, I think,” he said.  

Plant also recalled a conversation with Dylan when they were both playing in the same region of Spain. “‘Did you know there are 46 bullfighting rings in Spain that you can play?’” Dylan asked him. “‘You gotta keep going.’ Play, and let the music take you to fine people and introduce you to the underbelly of all these areas’ cultures.

“I’ll probably retire when I run out of breath.”

That doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon. Plant’s most recent album, 2017’s Carry Fire, recorded with his Sensational Space Shifters band, finds him at a creative peak. His voice is as strong and supple as ever, and the music brims with vitality, meandering purposefully between psychedelia, folk and blues.

To get to that point, he feels it’s important to leave space for spontaneity in the studio. He doesn’t want to have things too mapped out.

“It’s pretty nebulous and non-definable, clutching stuff and bringing it out of the air, and laying it down in some form or another with instruments,” says the musical mastermind. “It takes a myriad of different forms to get to the point in the song where you think you’ve actually got it.

“There’s an air of adventure, and I think with contemporary recording techniques, you can create impressions as a song develops its stature and its shape takes place. You can hang all sorts of different ideas on it as it grows and blossoms.”

His creative process often involves showing up to the session early.

“I go in fresh every morning. Sometimes I gave myself an hour or two before the guys came in to work on various tracks, and just moved things around, switched stuff about. Really, it’s almost like a watercolour painting. You may actually add another colour before the colour is dry for a different effect.”

Plant has always been an artist who prefers to talk about his newest material instead of revisiting the past. But he was encouraged by his label to explore his five-decade output in a new podcast that debuted this year. Each episode of Digging Deep with Robert Plant finds the singer-songwriter talking to a journalist about a specific song.

“I always deal in the current, present tense, and I’m only ever really getting excited about what I’m actually doing right now so I never thought about the idea of visiting the stuff again,” he says. “But every song has got a tale, and when I think about all the previous albums, all of them had some kind of attitude, whether it was trying to grasp the 80s or courting technology or not meeting with the approval of the Led Zeppelin fans at large.

“So I listen to the songs and think, ‘Wow, those guys were great players.’ It’s nice to look at that stuff. I like the idea of visiting tracks with an interest in them.”

As for the current tour, Plant is looking forward to bringing the Sensational Space Shifters to Canada, though there are just two dates this time, Ottawa’s CityFolk and Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, before he continues into the U.S.

“I only go where I want to go,” says the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer. “I remember playing Winnipeg and, I think, Calgary in Zeppelin. Towns carry the personality of the weather, the climate and the culture swings with the seasons. Some regions are tough to live in and they have a different kind of crowd. The audience has a different kind of tenacity about them. Canada is riveting really because it’s quite dynamic along that long, long journey from east to west.”


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Concert review: Robert Plant wows CityFolk

Lynn Saxberg    
September 16, 2019


Rock legend Robert Plant knows how to grab an audience’s attention, take it down a rabbit hole of musical exploration and pull out a once-in-a-lifetime experience that leaves you changed.

That was the arc of his fantastic main-stage performance at Ottawa’s CityFolk festival at Lansdowne Park on Sunday, the grande finale of this year’s edition and the second-biggest night of the fest (after Friday’s triple rock bill with Our Lady Peace, Live and Bush).

As Dawes singer Taylor Goldsmith pointed out during his band’s set earlier in the day, most of the artists on the bill were influenced by Plant at some stage of their evolution. Artists and fans alike were thrilled at the chance to share airspace with an original rock god.

Now 71, Plant is still writing and recording new music, most recently on his excellent 2017 album, Carry Fire. It’s a melange of folk, blues, world-music and psychedelia recorded with the Sensational Space Shifters, who were also accompanying him on Sunday, and lived up to the “sensational” billing with their impressive abilities.

But naturally, it was Plant who directed the proceedings. His hair still long and curly, the Rock ‘n Roll Hall Of Famer unleashed his signature, soul-stirring wail, opening the show with the old Led Zeppelin nugget, What Is and What Should Never Be, the familiar notes sending a ripple of excitement through the crowd.

As an opener, it was brilliant because the crowd fell into his palm and stayed there through thick and thin, lapping up the new songs, the soloing and even the extended bits of improvisation that occasionally veered into trippy electronics.

When Plant greeted the audience, it was to remark on the years that had passed since his last visit to the nation’s capital, which was a 2011 appearance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival with his Band of Joy.

“We were a jazz band then,” he noted. “Now we’re a folk group.”

Truth is, Plant and his bandmates can take any genre and create something special. Old songs and new benefited from the instrumental abilities of the band as a whole, but especially sweet was the work of fiddler Lily Mae Rische and guitarist Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson.

The reworked Led Zep tunes, notably Black Dog, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, Gallow’s Pole and Ramble On, were downright irresistible. Of the more recent material, the standout was the warm and tender The May Queen, a tribute, Plant said, to the goddess who brings the good things of summer.

The chill in the air was a reminder that that those good things are coming to end, but Plant’s show will be remembered as one of the best of a stellar summer festival season.





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