At Lake Tahoe, Robert Plant right out of Zeppelin heaven
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.
“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.
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space ShiftersLake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at HarveysStateline, NevadaSaturday, June 23, 2018
Mike Wolcott is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record. 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.