At Lake Tahoe, Robert Plant right out of Zeppelin heaven

Tahoe Onstage

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters sent the crowd home on a Led Zeppelin high on Saturday, June 23, 2018, at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

In a way, it was fitting that Robert Plant’s eagerly anticipated concert ended after just 12 songs Saturday night. After all, this is the man who has taken the old phrase “leave the people wanting more” and turned it into an art form — all while taking his own art to a higher level.

Plant, known to his former bandmates and most classic rock diehards as “the one man standing in the way of a full-blown Led Zeppelin reunion tour,” took a raucous crowd down a stunning half-century tour of rock and blues music Saturday. Somehow, he did it in an hour and 15 minutes, and sent everybody home happy.

Plant’s recent tour dates had averaged an already-brief 13 songs, including two in the encore. On this night, he whacked “In the Mood” — perhaps his best-known solo single — and cut it down to 12, with only “When the Levee Breaks” for an encore.

It was 10:15 p.m. when he walked off the stage. In Led Zeppelin’s heyday, John Bonham was barely halfway through “Moby Dick” at that hour. (In Stateline, Nevada, outdoor music must end by 10:30 p.m. due to a local ordinance and artists’ contracts.)

But you know what? For anyone who was there, even with the highest of expectations, it didn’t matter. Plant, in top vocal form and with his unmatched stage presence on grand display, put on such a powerhouse show in those 75 minutes that most of the people in the audience (which tilted heavily toward the Baby Boomer end of the scale) probably didn’t have much energy left at the end anyway.

Backed by his truly sensational Sensational Space Shifters, Plant started out fast and barely paused for a breath throughout the performance, and the capacity crowd couldn’t have been more enthusiastic, responding to every cue put forward by the master showman.

Tahoe Onstage“It’s great to be back,” Plant, 69, told the crowd early in the show. And, in one of many nods to his advancing age, he added “I just recently found out I’ve been here before.” (With Alison Krauss in 2008.)

Most of the setlist had been there before, too. Oddly enough, The Man Who Won’t Reunite With Zeppelin is touring behind a setlist that tilts heavily to Zeppelin — which, given his own stellar solo catalog, isn’t exactly necessary. Zeppelin broke up in 1980 following the asphyxiation death of drummer Bonham.

Case in point — after opening with the one-two Zeppelin combo of “The Lemon Song” and “Four Sticks,” Plant, twirling his microphone stand and seeming more lighthearted than years past, kept the energy level high (and almost all of the crowd on its feet) with “Turn It Up” and, from his most recent album, “The May Queen.” It was stunning to see how well those two songs kept the crowd going, coming after the opening Zeppelin classics.

The latter was incredibly well-received, especially considering it was the first time most of the people in the audience probably had heard the song. And it may have been the best case Plant made all night for leaving the old Zeppelin lineup in the history books. (Tough to imagine Plant and Jones harmonizing as effectively as the Sensational Space Shifters did on this one.) Plant actually smiled while watching the crowd dance to the song, letting out an extended “Ooooooooohhh!” late in the number that was right out of Zeppelin heaven.

It only got more heavenly from there. “Going To California” was next and, while Plant didn’t go for the extra-high notes in the middle of the song, he sang the rest of it with the care and poignancy that made it an instant classic from the “Led Zeppelin IV” album.

The title song from Plant’s latest album, “Carry Fire,” didn’t quite catch fire as much as “The May Queen” did, but the next number — “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” — certainly did. Plant hit all the high notes in that one and guitarist Liam “Skin” Tyson did an admirable job of capturing the original acoustic essence of the song without copying Jimmy Page’s playing note-for-note.

Most of the rest of the main set turned the spotlight on Plant’s band, especially guitarist Justin Adams and violinist Seth Lakeman (whose earlier solo set was a big hit among the sparse crowd of early arrivals before Los Lobos further warmed up the night.) Adams, in the unenviable position of playing most of Page’s parts on songs made famous by Page’s guitar playing, was spot-on in capturing the mood of the Zeppelin classics, so it’s probably understandable if he occasionally came uncomfortably close to mimicking Page’s stage moves.

“Rock and Roll” closed the main part of the set and the encore, “When the Levee Breaks,” sent the crowd home — albeit, early — on another Zeppelin high.

On a night like this, it was pretty easy to see why Plant eschews any talk of a Zeppelin reunion. He doesn’t need it. He obviously has a great time doing what he’s doing now — collaborating with other musicians, tinkering with some of the classics while treating them with all due reverence, and doing it all without the weight of the Led Zeppelin brand on his back — and his band, whether grooving on a Plant solo song or getting the Led out on a classic, is a tight, versatile unit capable of going any direction he wants to go.

Simply put, while Plant holds the keys to rock’s musical kingdom because of his role as the Zeppelin frontman, it’s pretty obvious he has plenty of other worthwhile keys on that ring as well. And the fact he’s still opening new doors at an age other performers are cashing in on nostalgia may be his most impressive note of all.

-Mike Wolcott

  • Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters
    Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys
    Stateline, Nevada
    Saturday, June 23, 2018
  1. The Lemon Song
  2. Four Sticks
  3. Turn It Up
  4. The May Queen
  5. Going To California
  6. Gallows Pole
  7. Carry Fire
  8. Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
  9. Little Maggie
  10. Fixin’ To Die
  11. Rock and Roll
  12. (encore) When the Levee Breaks

    Tahoe OnstageTahoe Onstage

    Tahoe Onstage

    Liam “Skin” Tyson did an admirable job on guitar.

    Tahoe Onstage

    Tahoe Onstage

    Justin Adams was tasked with playing most of Jimmy Page’s guitar parts.

    To see more of Larry Sabo’s photos, click this link.

About Mike Wolcott

Mike Wolcott is the director of the Northern California Design Center and a 40-year newspaper veteran who has worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, the Eureka Times-Standard, Corning Daily Observer, Red Bluff Daily News and Digital First Media. His proudest musical moment came when he was scolded by Who bassist John Entwistle for making too much noise at a Roger Daltrey concert. He especially likes classic rock, classic old-time country, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Dylan and all three Hanks. Parsons calls him “Wally.” When he’s not slaying deadlines, you can find Wally playing guitar in a Corning-based cover band called Punches the Clown.

13 comments

  1. Yeah, sorry at the prices of your tickets I will listen to old CDs then buy your ticket drive up and sit for 75 minutes.

    • Agree 1001 % I’ve been ripped off before but it used to be worth it at least. This current band is a tired excuse for what is no more than a decent cover band. His new hairdo sux as well.

  2. It’s a mystery why Plant will not tour with the band that recorded half of the songs he performed on this set. It’s nearly a Zep reunion without the other two guys.

  3. I have been a fan since 1969. Maybe that’s a bad thing. So many hero bands still survive from that age and continue to work hard at being entertainers rather than Prima Donnas . But I suppose his habits will lead to a long and healthy life. Great for him. Bad for fans. 75 minute shows are what support acts are supposed to play for one thing. Not the main act. He can’t even review his massive and great solo career properly. Somebody told him about the healing power of rustic hand drums like native and tribal humans once used and now there’s no turning back it seems. Great electric guitar rides are what heals the natives from the 60’s and 70’s. We didn’t grow up on a primal reservation. We (as well as Plant) grew up in a City of post primitive Man. Get used to the idea, Bob. Get Back.

  4. He’s just fucking with Jimmy. Getting him back for that Coverdale shit.

  5. Thank you Stub Hub. Bought 2 tickets day of the show for $40.00 and the show was fabulous. Tahoe the perfect venue for outdoor concert. Winner

  6. Jimmy Page Jimmy Page John Henry Bonham the big B John Paul Jones. Best words that ever came out of Plant’s mouth.Jason Jimmy and John ought to get a young Plant lookalike who can sing better than plant and go on tour as Bled Zeppelin.

  7. My expectations weren’t met. Had fun for the day, venue was great. Plant not so much. Sorry we spent so much money , middle stage row 23, for the show. Not great, but a show. “A fool and his money…..”

  8. Damn what a bunch of spoiled brats. I’ve seen Plant at least 10 times since the early 80s. He’s still got it. The Sensational Space Shifters have it now. We can’t always have it the way it was. We have it the way it is now. It’s damn good and I for one appreciate a living legend (the Golden God) coming to Lake Tahoe and making me want more. Los Lobos were hot too. One for the ages.

  9. Anyone who came to this show expecting a Led Zeppelin sound is like a fool in the rain. I thought the show was fine although they sure could have fit a few more songs in there. Personally I would prefer that they play no Led Zeppelin songs as only Led Zeppelin can do that.
    Great show but this venue sucks. It is a parking lot, people! Rickety plastic chairs on concrete or not worth the amount that they charge for tickets. The sound drifts away into the evening breeze in a place like that.

  10. Well we planed our vacation to Tahoe from Houston tx. to see Robert Plant with our daughters 12 and my 18yr. old who loves classic rock and Zeppelin we all thought he put an a great show he still has his voice.

  11. We were there! Drove up from Bishop, California, for the show & loved it, I would go again, I’ve read other comments and find it disheartening that people are so mean. I feel honored to even get to see the man sing anything, especially a Zep song. I never thought I would get to do that. I video taped “Going to California” and just listening to him sing it with everyone there singing with him was so awesome. Everyone that I have showed the video to said it gave them goosebumps just from the video let alone get to be there and share in that. It’s sad that others can’t feel the same. I would go again.

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