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| 16 April 2018 | Reply

Riverside Theatre, Perth – Sunday, 8 April, 2018
Supported by Seth Lakeman
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Photography by Stuart McKay

In the 1970’s Led Zeppelin were the sex and drug-soaked gods of bombastic rock and roll, led by the original ‘Golden God’ Robert Plant. Fastrack through a storied and never dull solo career, and 69-year old Plant is here touring his latest album, Carry Fire, with The Sensational Space Shifters – who do exactly what it says on the tin.

Where many would surrender their first-born to see Plant reunite with his old group to retread the past, he, admirably, would rather continue on his solo path – though he’s not as shy as he once was to reinvent songs from his back pages.

First though – let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Solo singer/multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman, also a member of Plant’s touring ensemble, treats us to a dynamic half an hour of folky tracks including the beautiful Silver Through The Gold, the excellent Educated Man and the touching, though dirge-like Raise Your Glass To The One You Love. The fact that the practically sold out Theatre sat quietly and respectfully through his set, cheering enthusiastically in all the right places, is testament enough to his captivating performance, and many will be eager to catch him playing in town next weekend.

With incense sticks lit, hair in a greying bun, and a spring in his step, Plant goes straight into four brilliant tracks from his two most recent albums: New World…, Turn It Up, The May Queen and Rainbow.

To save time, let’s talk about the band now rather than after every song mentioned: they are breathtaking, exemplary performers and stunning musicians, capable of playing rock and roll imbued with exotically spiced flavours, rhythms, grooves that are hypnotically captivating and energetically visceral.

Doing much of the heavy lifting are guitarists Skin Tyson, formerly of Cast, and Justin Adams, who has an extraordinary CV behind him. Between them they create layers upon layers of textured sound using not only guitars, but banjo and more exotic instruments, and Adams’ dancing would provide some comical light relief if only his playing weren’t so jaw dropping.

Plant’s voice is warmer and more honeyed than in his younger days, its range more compact though no less enthralling. Where Zep brought out the primal, sexual beasts in man and woman, Plant’s recent solo work is more euphoric and emotional – as close to a religious experience as we atheists are likely to experience.

“Let’s go back a couple of hundred years,” he states, launching into a honket tonk reworked Black Country Woman that’s more in tune with Zep’s influences than the bombast of Page and Bonham. The traditional Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down is next, starting sombrely with the band bathed in pink light, before it’s Appalachian banjo morphs into something mightier, and Plant cheekily inserts a snippet of In My Time Of Dying to the lyrics.

The music of the Appalachian mountains is close to Plant’s heart, and he lovingly delivers Please Read The Letter, which he originally recorded for the Page/Plant project, and revisited with Alison Krauss a few years ago. As he intros the song security are trying to eject someone who seemed to be filming the show, and the ruckus seems to disquiet Plant’s mood. Lakeman’s sublime violin and the song’s simple, heartfelt message of love sees him right himself quickly, the track climaxing with the two guitarists, Lakeman and Plant huddled together grooving off each other in an exhibition of pure joy.

As he tries to introduce the next track, talking about the swampy sounds of Louisiana, someone missing the point shouts, “play some Led Zeppelin.” Plant’s response is perfect, after a suitable unimpressed pause. “Can someone help that person to the door.”

Another song popularised by Zeppelin which was actually written decades earlier, Gallows Pole is next, delivered fast and frisky, led by Lakeman’s fiery violin.

Carry Fire is full of Middle Eastern rhythms, hypnotic and one of the highlights of the night, while Babe I’m Gonna Leave You – another Zep song which they lifted from earlier artists – sees Tyson seated on an acoustic guitar playing up a storm.

A trance-like keyboard pulsates throughout Little Maggie – another old Appalachian folk song – and a cover of Bukka White’s Fixin’ To Die features a great solo spot from Adams, before the main set closes with What Is And What Should Never Be, probably closest in tone to the original Zeppelin versions of any on show tonight.

For the encore, Plant’s leonine mane now released from its constraints, a rare treat: In The Mood, the only of Plant’s earlier solo works featured here and only played once previously on this Antipodean tour. Reworked into an Americana stomper, it’s glorious and – though I may be in the minority here – makes me wish he had played an entire set plucked from his solo catalogue rather than visiting any Led Zeppelin material at all.

The show concludes with a story about waking up to find a policeman in his suitcase right here in Perth – presumably on a 1970’s Zep tour – and he dedicates the closing medley to the “WA Police Department and all the fascists sleeping.” The band start with Willie Dixon’s Bring It On Home before segueing into Whole Lotta Love (one of the very few self-written Zeppelin tracks featured tonight) and the traditional Santianna, before returning to Whole Lotta Love.

It’d be impossible for Plant to recreate the old tracks as they are on record, and he’s having far too much enjoyment exploring new musical avenues. Tonight’s performance was triumphant, simply stunning – easily a solid candidate for gig of the year. Now, if only we could get him back to play a full solo set…

Set List:

New World…
Turn It Up
The May Queen
Black Country Woman
Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (snippet of In My Time Of Dying)
Please Read The Letter
Gallows Pole
Carry Fire
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
Little Maggie
Fixin’ To Die
What Is And What Should Never Be

In The Mood
Bring It On Home/Whole Lotta Love/Santiarro/Whole Lotta Love

Category: Live Reviews, Photo Galleries

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