QUNICY, Calif. – An acoustic guitarist came into sight through back-lit smoke, picking an extended Spanish-stlye riff. Then there was Robert Plant, singing one of the earliest Led Zeppelin songs, “Babe.”
There were as many gasps as there were cheers in High Sierra Festival’s packed football-field sized Grandstand Meadow.
“Robert Plant!,” one man exclaimed, as if he needed to confirm what his eyes and ears told him.
A woman who was in the very front said she burst into tears at the sound of first note from Plant, who played eight Led Zeppelin songs from the band’s first four albums an 1 hour, 40 minute, 15 song performance with a supremely talented collection of musicians from England, West Africa and Austraila called the Sensational Space Shifters.
“They shifted my space,” said Tara Payne, of Camino, who clutched the band’s playlist a member had tossed from the stage.
“Hey,” Plant said, the word he used to start each conversation he had with the audience. “Come on then. ‘I’m in the Mood,’ ” as he went into one of his post-Zeppelin radio hits.
At 64, he still has long, curly locks, like the stage’s giant backdrop portrait drawing of a young Led Zeppelin frontman. However, a short-sleeved T-shirt revealed he might want to make a wardrobe addition, an item invented on “Seinfeld” which rhymes with “Kashmir.”
“Thanks for joining us for a night of bluegrass and soft rock. That’s what got us here,” he grinned.
Paying homage to blues pioneer Charlie Patton, Plant led an Indian-flavored version of “Spoonful.”
He introduced West African band members and sang the “Led Zeppelin IV” rocker “Black Dog.” His “ahh-haa, ahh-haa” chants were spot on. Throughout the night Plant’s haunting moans and shouts, echoed, looped and accompanied with a synthesizer reminded us where trance rock started.
New Monsoon’s Bo Carper bought a microbrew and rushed back into the crowd, “I really want to see this,” he smiled.
Plant went into “Read the Letter” he said came from “our bluegrass project” with Alison Kraus and T Bone Burnett. With a deep electric groove, this version was a contrast.
After “Friends,” he finished with “It’s very easy,” and he spun 480 degrees.
During “California,” he sang, “I don’t know how tomorrow could ever follow today.” Indeed, thousands must have felt the same on the opening night of a four-day festival.
Plant was cognizant of the Fourth of July, and he mentioned it often while reminding the crowd he was British. “I don’t know why you threw all that tea in the water,” he said. “We had to go to India and China to get more.”
He gave credit to Delta originators Bukka White and Sleepy John Estes and played “Fixin’ to Die,” which melded into a Bo Diddley-Led Zep mélange of “Who Do You Love” and “Whole Lot of Love.”
“Hey,” Plant said, once again. “See you real soon. Happy Anniversary. Good night.”
But, of course, there was an encore.
Upon the return, there was a banjo-led gospel country blues, “Satan.”
“I haven’t seen you guys in a long time,” Plant said in what seems to be a contextual reference. Plant the rocker had been gone a long, lonely time.
“This is an old English folk song,” Plant said. “We’re going to leave you with this because it’s right up your alley.”
The song was the epic “Rock ‘N” Roll,” hard and fast.
Plant laughed and blew a kiss into his hand and waved. “Keep smiling. Peace and Love. Bye bye”
Once everyone knew the show was over, Plant spoke for the final time.
“Tomorrow is senior citizens’ menu at Denny’s.”
- Robert Plant presents The Sensational Space Shifters
- High Sierra Music Festival
- Thursday, July 4
- Set list
- 1 “Babe”
- 2 “In the Mood”
- 3 “Tin Pan”
- 4 “Spoonful”
- 5 “Black Dog”
- 6 “Another Tribe”
- 7 “California”
- 8 “Enchanter”
- 9 “Please Read the Letter”
- 10 “Friends”
- 11 “Fixin’ to Die”
- 12 What is Will”
- 13 “Whole Lotta Love”
- 14 “Satan”
- 15 “Rock ‘N’ Roll”