Robert Plant – Beacon Theater, New York, Feb.14th, 2018
I first met Robert Plant in the early 1980s at the once famed New York jazz club, Fat Tuesday’s. He was coming off the heels of his first solo tour and stopped by to watch a performance of the legendary Les Paul Trio. Back then there were no social media notifications. Music information was transferred by radio, MTV or word of mouth.
Those of us who founded careers in the music industry knew where the music elite would find themselves. Jimmy Page’s appearance at this venue prior, was a treat for us especially when he joined Les Paul and his trio for a few numbers. Robert ended up starting a hoopla that put an end to the future peaceful setting of this particular place. Yet, for that particular evening he was ours, only.
While most of us were still reeling with elation from our experience with Mr. Page, spotting the tall Viking rock God strolling in had me exclaiming , “Dear Lord.” While Jimmy was soft spoken and tended to avoid the masses, Robert was gregarious and friendly. We spoke for an extended length of time but when he followed me outside to a pay phone, I asked if he would say hello to my mother. He did and this is something she still talks about.
One thing Robert told me stayed with me to this day. I bring it up because it weighs heavily on his current performances. Robert said toward the end Led Zeppelin wasn’t as fun. In the beginning, they experimented with sounds and covers. They could work in different versions of their songs and constantly evolve. Toward the end they had to play certain songs and not deviate as the audience would be vocally disappointed. During Plant’s early tours, he refused to play any Led Zeppelin numbers at all.
Now we begin what we are here for, Robert Plant’s brilliance on stage at New York’s Beacon Theater. Why I elaborated on that evening, many years ago, as it explains the musical path Robert has pursued and his penchant for experimenting with his history and his current body of work. It took a few years before Robert decided to include songs from the band that went down in history as one of the best. Robert may have decided to give the fans what they want but he does so on his own terms.
As with all of Robert Plant’s post Led Zeppelin projects the musical diversity astounds. Along with his aptly named band, 'The Sensational Space Shifters', the evening was a journey through past and present with band members demonstrating their versatile instrumental talent.
Focusing on his most recent released, 'Carry Fire', the singer’s eleventh solo effort, the album’s tracks dominated the evening’s set list. Plant walked to center stage and commenced with his opening song, 'New World'. Looking ever the rock star with his long blonde tresses tied back and vocals that continue to impress; this time I was not the only one exclaiming, “Dear Lord!”
Proceeding from the rock/pop tempo of 'New World' to the esoteric sounds of 'Turn It Up' with its Zeppelinesque vocals and haunting melody; the more I heard from this offering the more I feel it is my favorite of his solo albums.
Plant moved on to 'May Queen', and 'Little Maggie' with Plant explaining that he dated a Maggie hence the title of this one. He followed with the title track 'Carry On' with its medieval Indian flair and Plant’s famous wail.It seemed an appropriate time to delve into the endless Led Zeppelin catalog and Plant chose 'That’s The Way' from Led Zeppelin III or the acoustic album ( although it isn’t), the album with big wheel and everything else we called it. It doesn’t matter, what mattered was it was absolutely beautiful. As with every Zeppelin number, the crowd stood for the entire duration.
Not too long ago Robert Plant found himself at the County Music Awards with bluegrass singer, Alison Kraus. Plant referred to the collaboration and mentioned he was perplexed at Alison not being at the venue. It was difficult to gage how serious he was but the stunning, emotional 'The Letter' punctuated by Seth Lakeman’s gorgeous violin work proved this joint venture belonged on an award stage.
A characteristic of the famed Led Zeppelin was their penchant for recording traditional blues and folk songs and adding their classic spin. Plant spoke of Leadbelly being one of his early influences. The band recorded the artist’s 'Gallows Pole' early in their career. Plant vowed to play the song in its traditional arrangement. The song initially had a quicker pace, and for some this version was previously unknown. Still, the audience absolutely loved it and face it, Robert Plant can sing the phone book and it would sound spectacular.
There was no rest for the assemblage in the Beacon Theater as the opening acoustic riffs of 'Babe I’m Gonna Leave You' perfectly played by Liam 'Skin' Tyson, caused a rippling frenzy. Plant was again the gyrating, microphone stand holding, moaning singer who graced our bedroom walls and turntables, and it was wonderful. From this point Plant and the band launched into Bukka White’s 'Fixin’ To Die' which could have found it’s home in Led Zeppelin’s repertoire, Plant’s love of blues music is why he continues to shine with such songs.
Once the crowd quieted, slightly Plant told us he was going to sing a song he wrote, which could have been anything. Against a video backdrop of young people during the 1960s; 'Misty Mountain Hop' announced itself with a bluegrass style version. Bewitchingly commanded by Plant, this allowed yet another glimpse into what was while enjoying what is.
It was encore time and although artists always leave the best for last, which at times is predictable, with Plant anything goes, but we really did not expect the treats he had in store us. Starting with one of his successful songs from his solo days 'In The Mood' it sounded as perfect as it did when Robert, first introduced the song and video back in the MTV days.
From there, it was evident that the experimental versions of his classic songs were over for the evening. With a chorus from 'Bring It On Home', the band went forward with 'Whole Lotta Love'. The heavy guitar, the pounding drums and a singer that brought it home.
I choose to write about music for many reasons. At times I want to bring attention to music that deserves to have a wider audience. Other times I want to take readers on a journey until they feel they were next to me at the show. Then there are times where a band or artist has left such an imprint on me; I want to share my elation. Robert Plant would fall into the last category. From the first time I heard a Led Zeppelin song on a fateful night in a friend’s basement to wallpapering my room with their faces, to a conversation with Robert Plant on a New York City street.
This is what music does; it creates memories. For an hour or two we are entertained and forget about daily worries. Some concerts are fun, some mesmerize us with a stage full of talent and some take our breath away. Robert Plant had the power to do that to those of us blessed enough to be here tonight.
Review By Dawn Belotti
Photo Contribution By Russell B Brown