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By Greg Kot

Robert Plant claims he's not interested in reuniting Led Zeppelin, but the idea of Zeppelin-the art of extremes-still appeals to him.

Still bombastic after all these years, Plant brought his most Zeppelin-like backing band Wednesday to the Arie Crown and demolished a few old favorites while reinvigorating some newer ones. From unplugged folk songs to sternum-rattling metal, flavored with Eastern modalities, Brechtian balladry (a reworked "Heaven Knows") and some stomping Chicago-style blues, Plant indulged a voracious musical appetite with a wolfish grin and a swagger to match.

Digging into Zeppelin's "Ramble On," the ringlet-haired singer turned this over-ripe philanderer's blues into a statement of purpose, as though giving nostalgia a kick in the pants: "Years ago, in days of old, when magic filled the air . . . I got to ramble on." Unfortunately, Plant didn't always heed his own advice.

An audience that paid as much as $50 for a seat swooned whenever a Zeppelin riff was replicated by one of the three guitarists. "Thank You" still sends a chill, but the hippie wanderlust of "California" and the over-the-top "Whole Lotta Love" sounded more like '70s artifacts.

Plant also performed an acoustic "If I Were a Carpenter," but his frayed voice wasn't up to it, and "In the Mood" turned into a muddle of a '60s medley, including Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and Donovan's "Season of the Witch." A particular low point was the call-and-response between Plant's banshee shriek and Francis Dunnery's equally shrill guitar, a bit of showboating that should've stayed buried with Zeppelin's worst album, the live "The Song Remains the Same."

Much more focused was Plant's recent solo material. Dunnery led the charge on "Tall Cool One" and "Hurting Kind (I've Got My Eyes On You))" which evoked AC/DC with their riff-shredding overdrive. Even better was "29 Palms," one of the year's best singles, with an inescapable melody riding in behind Phil Johnstone's 12-string acoustic.

For sheer stagger, however, it would be difficult to top "Calling to You," which turned into a raging, ensemble blowout. This was no "Free Bird"-style event, with everybody showing off. This was five guys head to head, auditioning for Ornette Coleman.

When Plant brought out local harp virtuoso James Cotton for the encore, he reached all the way back for the primordial music that inspired him as a kid growing up in England. It was sloppy but spirited, so much so that one could almost forgive yet another flogging of "Sweet Home Chicago." Plant demonstrated that he's not much of a guitar player, but Cotton wailed. Opening was Cry of Love, a quartet that seems to have no ideas beyond cloning Bad Company's gruff, blue-eyed soul vocals and guitar riffs.

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