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The Voice of Led Zeppelin Still Rocks (RP Dusseldorf show review)


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The Voice of Led Zeppelin Still Rocks


Staff writer

In the 1970s, a carload of farm boys drove the dusty country roads of west-central Illinois sipping

illegal beers and playing Led Zeppelin on the eight-track player loud enough to crack the

dashboard. None of those farmers' sons till the soil these days, but the voice of Led Zep is still producing dashboardsplitting rock 'n' roll.

Robert Plant has the same good looks, long curly locks and distinctive strong voice that were signatures of Zeppelin's giant success two decades ago. But he no longer has Jimmy Page and John Bonham behind him.

Before opening a tour of West Germany in Dusseldorf's Philipshalle Friday to promote his new

album, Manic Nirvana, Plant confessed that the crowd of 1,500 in the hall was a mystery to him.

"Nobody knows what to expect," he said, speaking of the band and the audience. "I haven't been here for years, and when I was here last, I was part of 'God.' "

That is a reference to Led Zeppelin, which casts a long shadow. The band was, some think, the greatest rock 'n' roll band ever. Groups today, like Whitesnake and Kingdom Come, are simply imitations of Plant and his former cronies. And mostly they are bad ones, like copies sent by fax machine across a bad telephone line.

But Plant needn't have worried about the crowd's reaction in Dusseldorf. The fans responded

enthusiastically to a show that was vintage rock 'n1 roll. Wailing vocals. Grinding guitars. Booming drums. Lights. Smoke.

Even those people wearing Led Zeppelin T-shirts enjoyed the show. To see Plant in front of a band other than you-know who provides one with an additional appreciation for him. He knows his way around a lyric and a stage. He can seduce a crowd with a smile and a shake of his bushy head.

The fact that he's still doing it 21 years after Zep's first album is no surprise to him.

"I never thought I'd want to be doing anything else," he said. "It's the only excuse I've got to smile at young women. Or older women, for that matter."

But escaping his past association was difficult. His first solo attempts were not commercial successes ("I wanted to avoid the obvious."), but "very satisfying for me," he said.

Manic Nirvana is Plant's fifth album since going solo and his second with this group of musicians.

Keyboardist and songwriter Phil Johnstone says he became associated with his idol in the simplest way — he sent him songs.

Plant had distanced himself from Zeppelin, Johnstone said, and was looking for something new.

Record companies wanted Plant to come out sounding like Whitesnake or Kingdom Come.

"They wanted him to copy people who copied him," Johnstone said. "That's crazy."

Johnstone said there was no concerted effort in the songwriting not to sound like Zeppelin, but added, "it's not a concerted effort to sound like Led Zeppelin, either."

The band does have a Zeppelin sound about it, mostly, of course, because of Plant's voice. And the

musicians are confident enough to do some Zeppelin songs.

In Dusseldorf, they played a handful of familiar songs from that long ago age, including Going to California, The Immigrant Song and Misty Mountain Hop. And they touched on some of Plant's solo career work, including songs from Now and Zen, a popular 1988 album recorded with most of his present band.

Besides Johnstone, Plant is performingwith Doug Boyle on guitar, Chris Blackwell on drums and Charlie Jones on bass, altogether a band likely to impress hard-rock fans worldwide.

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