Jump to content

Plant blends old, new masterfully (show review)


Recommended Posts

Plant blends old, new masterfully

Chicago Sun-Times (IL) - July 11, 2005

Author: Jim DeRogatis

Robert Plant and Strange Sensation At Auditorium Theatre

Yeah, sure, there's that old band he used to front. But the thing that makes Robert Plant such an inspiring force in music today is that the singer has never stopped listening to new music and incorporating the influences he loves into his own work.

The 56-year-old former golden god of Led Zeppelin opened his show Saturday night at the sold-out Auditorium Theatre with a radically different version of "No Quarter," reshaping the moody Zep classic as a sort of tribal chant with minimal guitar and most of his talented five-piece band the Strange Sensation playing ethnic hand percussion.

A dozen songs later, Plant ended the set proper with the anthemic "When the Levee Breaks." Once again, he led the group in taking the classic-rock standard to a strange new world, rendering it with mandolin and standup bass and bringing a strong north African influence to the crunching metallic blues of the original.

Plant introduced the tune by paying homage to two of the many musicians he admires -- Chicago blues great Otis Clay and the Saharan group Tinariwen -- and noting that he had spent the afternoon before his own gig at the Old Town School of Folk Music's annual Folk & Roots Festival. He chastised anyone in his audience who hadn't gone out to hear Clay at the fest, as he had, and encouraged them to turn out Sunday to hear Tinariwen's Touareg music.

In fact, both of those influences and many others could be heard in Plant's own performance, via his reinterpretations of Zep tunes and cuts such as "Shine It All Around," "Freedom Fries" and the title track from his strong new solo album, appropriately titled "Mighty Rearranger."

The voice isn't what it used to be -- it no longer soars to the highest registers it reached when Plant was a marauding Viking warrior -- and one suspects a touch of electronic enhancement from the mixing board. But he's still a more impressive instrument than many singers a third his age, and he moved with a supple, feline grace as sweet-smelling incense wafted from the monitors at his feet. (Once a hippie, always a hippie.)

Zep tunes outnumbered new tunes 2-to-1 throughout the relatively short show, with a cover of Bonnie Dobson's folk classic "Morning Dew," popularized by the Grateful Dead, thrown in for good measure. The night's only disappointment was that the singer didn't feel free to sample more of his new album, or include standout tracks from earlier in his solo career.

History and past accomplishments weigh heavily upon all of the rock giants from the '60s and '70s. Thankfully, Plant joins the minority devoted to constant reinvention and opposed to nostalgia -- a group led by Bob Dylan and Neil Young -- as opposed to the faction represented by the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, who too often seem like living jukeboxes and oldies acts.

With top tickets priced at $85, Plant knew that the majority of the 4,300 fans at the Auditorium expected Zeppelin songs, so Zeppelin songs he delivered. But to his credit, he either rearranged them in new and challenging ways, or dug for the deepest nuggets he could find, including the beautiful acoustic track "That's the Way," the rollicking "Gallows Pole" and the great Zep B-side "Hey Hey What Can I Do."

Opening the show were the Sights, a guitar, drums and keyboard trio from Detroit, which brought R&B, blues and gospel influences into the garage a la another Motown combo, the White Stripes.

The Sights show a lot of promise, but guitarist-vocalist Eddie Baranek lacks Jack White's charisma and his economical way with a hook, and he seems to have watched way too many showboaters live from the Fillmore, mistaking nonstop soloing for musical excitement.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...