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Most veteran music acts are content to rest on the strength of their back catalogues. Not so the ever artistically restless 66-year-old Robert Plant, whose post-Led Zeppelin career has been marked by vital musical excursions ranging far and wide, including, most successfully, American roots music. His latest release, lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar, recorded with his band the Sensational Space Shifters, is one of his most audacious experiments yet, a nearly unclassifiable mélange of folk, blues, electronica and dub featuring influences ranging from Celtic to African. Supporting the album with a tour that included two shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s ornate opera house — part of a series of concerts marking the 50th anniversary of his new label, Nonesuch Records — Plant and company delivered a galvanizing show featuring a generous selection of Led Zeppelin classics.
It was the sort of night seemingly designed to test the knees of aging fans. Like clockwork, they would rise to their feet every time they recognized the opening riff to a Led Zep song, only to plop down again whenever a new song was played. It’s a credit to the canny arrangements that the set list blended together seamlessly.
Although he doesn’t quite howl with the old ferocity, Plant delivered hauntingly ethereal vocals in which he still managed to hit every high note. Despite his steadfast refusal to reunite for a tour with his former band, he delivered the old songs with an energized passion that belied their vintage status. Most were instantly recognizable, save for a dramatically reworked, instrumental version of “Black Dog.”
Among the highlights culled from the new release were the hymn-like “Lullaby,” the album’s first single about which Plant cheekily declared, “I think Dick Clark’s playing it every day”; the bluesy “Turn It Up”; and the show closer “Little Maggie,” the ‘40s era bluegrass standard, here reworked with African grooves spotlighting Gambian band member Juldeh Camara on ritti, a one-stringed fiddle.
Plant paid tribute to his blues influences with several covers, including Howlin’ Wolf’s “No Place to Go”; Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die,” featuring stuttering vocals and a rockabilly-style guitar solo; and such Led Zep staples as “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”
Yes, Jimmy Page’s blistering guitar work was missed at times. But the band — also including Justin Adams, John Baggott, Billy Fuller, Dave Smith and Liam “Skin” Tyson — infused the music with complex atmospherics featuring such instruments as banjo, African bendir and djembe drums and swirling keyboards and loops.
The biggest responses were naturally accorded to Led Zep classics like “Thank You,” “Going to California” and an impassioned “Whole Lotta Love,” the latter bookended by snippets of “Poor Tom” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”
That the show featured more Led Zeppelin songs than selections from the new album signaled that, for all his musical adventurousness, Plant is a canny enough showman to give the people what they want. It almost inspired hope that he’ll someday rejoin his former bandmates for a tour that would inevitably rewrite box-office history.
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters will be performing at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium on Oct. 7.
Turn It Up
Going to California
A Stolen Kiss
What is and What Should Never Be
No Place to Go
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
Fixin’ to Die
Whole Lotta Love
Nobody’s Fault But Mine
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