Live: Robert Plant Brings Blues To The 21st Century With Brooklyn Show

“We’ve got a lot of music for you,” Robert Plant announced at the final date of his U.S. tour Saturday night (July 27) at the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, New York. “We’re gonna whip out the REO Speedwagon, but right now we’re gonna go back to the 1920s!” Plant has a sly sense of humor; this was his way of saying, if you’re looking to hear the studio versions of Led Zeppelin‘s songs, you should listen to the radio.  However, those with adventurous tastes would be rewarded.

Which isn’t to say that Plant has a problem with his hits or his lineage. That was clear from the opener: “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” A folk song from the 1950s popularized by Joan Baez a decade later, Led Zeppelin turned it into a powerful anthemic adrenaline blast on their 1969 debut album, and it barely resembled the original. Plant’s message seemed to be: old music is a jump-off point to create something new, not to be preserved in its original form. It’s a living organism, not Madame Tussad’s. Four decades later, he seems to feel the same way about Zeppelin’s music. His reverence to his former band is to the spirit of what they did, not simply to Jimmy Page’s arrangements. And while “Babe” stuck fairly closely to Zep’s version, and the same was true of “Going To California,” other songs were taken to the present and beyond: notably “Black Dog,” which became a desert blues instead of the proto-metal headbanger that was released on Zeppelin’s fourth album. It’s a song he seems to particularly enjoy re-shaping: he did a more psychedelic version with his last group, the Band Of Joy (watch that version here) and a bluegrass version when he was touring with Alison Krauss (see it here). Watch his current take of the song below.

Zeppelin was one of the three main touchpoints of his setlist. As always, he has a huge reverence for the blues music that inspired him, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and the late John Bonham, along with so many other of his peers in the ’60s. The difference is that Plant still seems as excited by the blues as he ever was, and still as inspired by the possibilities hidden in the genre. So when he covers “Spoonful” or “Fixin’ To Die” (the 1920′s song referred to earlier), he doesn’t see them as museum pieces, he sees them as new canvas’ to paint on.  Watch his interpretation on “Spoonful” below.

The other touchpoint was his 2005 solo album, Mighty ReArranger, which featured his backing band the Strange Sensation. That group has four players in common with the Sensational Shape Shifters: guitarist Justin Adams, keyboardist John Baggot, bassist Billy Fuller and guitarist Liam “Skin” Tyson (the Shape Shifters are rounded out by Juldeh Camara who sings, plays a one stringed African violin called the ritti, and an African banjo called the kologo, and drummer Dave Smith). That album, one of his most adventurous, was his last before his multi-GRAMMY winning collaboration with Krauss, which kicked off a few years of exploration into Americana. Now, Plant appears to be returning to a more global (and electronic) sound. He played “Tin Pan Valley,” “Another Tribe” and “The Enchanter” from that album.  In “Tin Pan Valley,” a song that combines electronic sounds, a world music feel and thrashing guitars, he sings, “My peers may flirt with cabaret/some fake the rebel yell/Me, I’m moving up to higher ground/I must escape their hell.” That’s exciting news for fans who are still eager to see what Plant may still contribute.

For anyone else: “Zep-tember” is just a few weeks away.

— Brian Ives,


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