Review of December 4, 2005 Palais Show, London, UK
Originally appeared in timesonline.co.uk
“I HAVEN’T been in here since Dave Edmunds was chucking up in ’72,” smiled Robert Plant, peering out at a Palais crowd that was crammed into every available space. Back then, at the peak of Led Zeppelin’s success, Plant was the ultimate rock god and, three decades on, despite the mellowing of his music and a voice that avoids its top range, he remains an enigmatic frontman with a swagger in his step.
Dressed in tight black trousers and an open-necked silk shirt that showed off a svelte body, his hair still in thrall to 1970s footballer chic, Plant powered through the opening Freedom Fries, a new number with a stomping beat, Eastern tinge and a wash of psychedelic effects, while a trio of guitarists provided a funky bassline and driving rock riffs.
The band, the Strange Sensation, who play on Plant’s current album, Mighty Rearranger, his first of entirely new material in more than a decade, can take some of the credit for the 56-year-old’s fine form. Having plucked them from Portishead, the defunct Britpoppers Cast and Massive Attack’s touring band, Plant could have been accused of cradle-snatching had they not worked so well together. Their energy invigorated him, his howl drove them on.
A cover of Love’s Seven and Seven Is had Plant spinning in circles, with a leg aloft and headbutting the air, and on a densely reworked Black Dog he looked for a second as if he might leap into the air at the end. He didn’t, but for a man who refuses to re-form his old group, no matter how many millions are on offer, he revisited his past with surprising enthusiasm.
Between Four Sticks, Going to California, a fabulous finale of When the Levee Breaks and a cover of Hey Joe that came close to the night’s highlight, Plant’s new material sometimes struggled to leave much of a mark. The songs were all artfully arranged, powerfully played and superbly sung, but even the single Shine It All Around lacked a memorable melody. The exception was Tin Pan Valley, a hypnotic, percussive number backed by bubbling electronica, which lambasts Plant’s old peers for continuing to trade on past glories.
Yet while Plant has moved on many times, his past continues to haunt him. The encore ended with Whole Lotta Love and as the crowd streamed out into the night, it was that they were humming.
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