It can be fairly said that no rock star of his generation is less fond of nostalgia than Robert Plant. Since Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980, Plant has done nearly all that he could to step out of the band’s undeniably large shadow. And while he personally might not be one to live a life stuck in the past, he did his part to let those in attendance at the Chateau Ste. Michelle on Saturday night have their moment.
The singer and his latest band The Sensational Space Shifters delivered a set that was heavy on hits, highlighted with songs like “Going to California” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” played in updated arrangements that kept the evening from feeling too much like a greatest hits review. As is always the case for a Robert Plant show, Led Zeppelin loomed large over the festivities even if the name of the group itself remained unspoken. In an ironic twist and by sheer happenstance, as he first took the stage and launched into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” two hot-air balloons happened to drift up into view on either side of the singer providing a striking backdrop to the earlier portion of the show.
Plant—as he always has—took an irreverent stance when it came to the music produced by his old band; before playing a world music flavored rendition of “Black Dog,” he welcomed the crowd and invited us all to share in a “night of soft rock and REO Speedwagon covers.” He later joked that “Rock and Roll” was an old sea chantey brought along by the Pilgrims to the New World in the 1600s.
The music itself was superb with the singer and his newest outfit playing each song in the set with a mixture of technical wizardry as well as an improvisational spirit that left you wondering where each song might go. The Willie Dixon penned blues standard “Spoonful” was covered in a spacey electronica fueled interpretation while “In the Mood” off Plant’s 1983 solo album The Principle of the Moment was kept pretty close to the jaunty original.
While the songs themselves certainly didn’t remain the same, the singer’s voice has defied the ages and each number was delivered with an authority that recalled the vocal power he summoned in his later years with Led Zeppelin near the peak of their chart dominance in 1975. Prior to the tour, Plant claimed he wanted to bring his “big voice” out again which he certainly did with gusto on the most well received song of the evening “Whole Lotta Love” performed in all its original bombastic glory.
Ultimately, the show was akin to a journey through both space and time with Plant and the Space Shifters taking us from the golden hills of California to the distant shores of Eastern Africa, the sun-scorched fields of Mississippi, and the hopped up juke joints of Chicago. While it isn’t known where Plant’s own journey might take him next, it’s certain the man isn’t ready to stop ramblin’ just yet.