Robert Plant Presents
The Sensational Space Shifters
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

June 29, 2013
Greek Theatre
Berkeley, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Spud Johnson

Until tonight, I hadn’t seen Robert Plant since 2002 when he toured behind Dreamland, an incredibly dense, diverse album that helped pave the way for his subsequent musical explorations. Indeed, the singer has turned each record he’s made in the last eight years into a thrill ride of eclecticism and stylistic buoyancy.

Both 2005’s The Mighty Rerarranger and 2010’s Band Of Joy found Led Zeppelin’s Golden God interpreting everything from psychedelic folk music to Appalachian Bluegrass. Raising Sand, the 2007 album he made with Alison Krauss, sagely stunned and surprised his following and its collective ear with a wide range of fun, unusual covers — and one Plant wrote with Jimmy Page that ended up winning the Record of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Better late than never, I suppose.

Which brings us to tonight’s show at the Greek. When your back-up band is called the Sensational Space Shifters, there are about a million directions to go in. No one was going to find out (unless they’re into spoiler alerts) until a little after nine. In the meantime, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals turned up the heat for a searing nine-song set that roused the angst of the multi-generational crowd.

No matter where and when you’re from, you’ll get little argument that Potter, a long-legged beauty bedecked in a long, chiffon-styled sparkly gown split in the front, is as easy on the eyes as a Hawaiian sunset. And behind those good looks is a charismatic, Vermont-bred singer with an equally adept band. After hitting it out the park with a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” Potter slipped out of her heels, strapped on her Flying V and conjured up a cauldron of messy blues with “Nothing But The Water.” After that, her place on the same stage as the legend to follow was pretty much validated.

Plant and his band started off the evening with the safe and reasonably favorable, “Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You,” an early 50s folk song famously recorded by Joan Baez, and a brazen move by Led Zeppelin on their debut album to contrast the dark, brooding nature of their heavy blues wail with a more refined, acoustic side. It would be difficult to assess the set’s opener as a barometer of things to come once “In The Mood,” a Top 40 hit in 1983 for the singer, picked up the pace with considerable steam and verve.

As the night wore on, a calculated mix of recent excursions like Los Lobos‘ “Angel Dance” and “Please Read The Letter” were slotted in between the Zeppelin stuff, which comprised a large portion of the setlist. There was a catch, of course. If you came in, expecting to hear “Black Dog” or “Rock And Roll,” copped, riff for riff directly from the record, you were gong to be sorely disappointed (the crash n' burn assault of “Whole Lotta Love” was about as close as you were going to get).

From the Zeppelin songbook, “Going To California,” “Friends” and “What Is And What Should Never Be” were probably the easiest to digest, at least from a fan’s perspective. For a man about to turn 65, Plant’s voice retains a youthful exuberance on these tracks especially — a profound and warm quality minus the banshee shrieks of old. Even so, he managed to work in a trademark yelp here and there just to make the youngans feel like they weren’t being neglected.

These days, however, Robert Plant mostly works within his vocal limitations, adjusting keys and tempos to suit his style. It’s a big reason he’s hesitant to climb aboard the Mothership Zeppelin for another reunion — time and age can take their toll, no matter how good you are. But that’s the thing: Plant is still a great singer with a cultured range, a little more wise and weathered than the swaggering, lemon-squeezing Dionysus of the 70s. And as he continues to plow the fields of discovery and take it to the people, it‘s apparent Robert Plant is going to be around, making more music for years to come.

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