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Plant struts back home (show review)


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Plant struts back home

Chicago Sun-Times - May 30, 1988

Author: Don McLeese

Robert Plant was willing to leave Led Zeppelin behind when the '80s began, but the rest of rock refused to let the band lie in peace. After the death of drummer John Bonham spelled the end of the dominant hard-rock band of the '70s, Plant committed himself in his solo career to aging gracefully, refusing to rehash former glories.

As Plant's music impressed with its increasing maturity, melodism and emotional reflectiveness, other rockers rushed to fill the void that Zeppelin had left.

Most recently, bands from the Cult to Whitesnake to Kingdom Come have been doing their best to sell Plant's vocal phrasing and Jimmy Page's guitar licks as their own, offering freeze-dried Zeppelin as a fresh new sound for the '80s.

At Poplar Creek Music Theatre Sunday night, Plant reclaimed some of his old turf. His first tour in three years found him strutting, shaking and shimmying as he did in Zeppelin's heyday.

While the concert showed Plant returning to a more aggressive, physical brand of rock than on previous solo tours, it wasn't simply a blast from the past. As Plant celebrates his former band's legacy, he hasn't become trapped within it.

What made his recent "Now and Zen" album such a success, musically as well as commercially, was Plant's ability to find a place for a harder-edged brand of rock within the musical gains that he has made in his solo career. He is a better singer these days than he ever was with Zeppelin, with a suppleness in his vocals that goes well beyond the lemon-squeezed squealing of his earlier style.

While new material, such as "Tall Cool One," pays irony-tinged tribute to the past, his concert went light on the macho posturing that was integral to Zeppelin's musical attack and was devoid of that band's brand of wretched excess.

The young four-man band that backed him played hungry, giving Plant a push while refraining from solo showboating.

In keyboardist Philip Johnstone (who wrote most of the new album with Plant) and guitarist Doug Boyle, he has found musical foils who go beyond the time-warped imitation of so much late-'80s hard rock.

Boyle was particularly impressive at Poplar Creek, playing with a muscular lyricism that was remarkably free of hard-rock cliche.

What separates Plant's music from that of the imitation Zeppelins is that he keeps moving, while they simply mimic where he has been.

A Led Zeppelin reunion may be inevitable, but Plant's Poplar Creek concert confirmed that it certainly isn't necessary.

Opening for Plant was the Mission U.K., whose most recent album was produced by former Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

Most of the Mission's music is standard postpunk fare: brooding anthems, angst-driven guitars, thunderous drums.

In concert, however, the mood was lightened by frontman Wayne Hussey, who worked the crowd like a good-time boy with mischief on his mind. He sang from the seats, borrowed a few sips of beer, ran through the lawn, and turned what would have been a routine set into a spirited event.

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