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Home » Robert Plant

Irving Plaza, NYC

24 March 2005 2,503 views No Comment

No Quarter/Shine It All Around/Black Dog/Freedom Fries/Morning Dew/Heartbreaker/That’s The Way/All The King’s Horses/If I Were A Carpenter/Darkness, Darkness/Tin Pan Valley/Babe I’m Gonna Leave You/Tall Cool One/When The Levee Breaks
Encores: The Enchanter/Whole Lotta Love

This from Stephen Humphries
By the time doors opened at Irving Plaza, the line stretched around the block in a scene reminiscent of those old photos of bread lines in Soviet Russia. All anybody could talk about was how surprising it was that Robert was playing such a small venue and not Madison Square Garden. Indeed, I had made a pilgrimage from Boston to see the show because it promised to be such an intimate show. I wasn’t disappointed: I managed to stand in the front row and scored the closest view of Robert in the 16 times I’ve seen him since 1990. If only I’d thought to bring earplugs as it was a tad uncomfortable being that close to the amps, particularly when the opening set by The Soundtrack of Our Lives tested the limits of the human eardrum. When Robert came on shortly after 10:15, I was grateful for the quiet opening track of “No Quarter.” Perhaps it was a little too quiet, though, as it was hard to really hear Robert and the band over the baying crowd. Each member of the band stood at the front of the stage with hand drums as ‘Skin’ Tyson sat on a stool and played along on an acoustic guitar. This version was virtually unrecognizable apart from Plant’s vocal. It was as if Robert was singing along to the original tune and the band was playing something else entirely (though the members of Strange Sensation echoed some of Plant’s lines). I’m not sure that this North African-style version really worked, though, even in this tiny setting. I’m not sure whether it’s because Plant’s band were too quiet, the crowd too loud, or the melody lines too indistinct. I’d like to hear the band play this alone in a studio where I think the subtleties of this spare arrangement would come across much better. So, 10 out of 10 for trying to reinterpret the song rather than play a cabaret version of the original arrangement, but I think Plant will need to choose a different opener by the time he starts playing bigger venues [my vote: “If I Ever Get Lucky (Win My Train Fare Home.)”]

Next up was “Shine It All Around.” This track has been promoted in the setlist order as it had previously appeared midway through the set at previous gigs on this tour. It was well received due to airplay as the first single. Now here’s a song that will reverberate around arenas later this summer. The song is even better live and Robert began strutting around the stage with great playfulness, at one point skillfully kicking the microphone stand just enough so that it threatened to fall over before it righted itself. The show picked up even more momentum once the crowd realized that the band had launched into “Heartbreaker.” Strange Sensation wisely chose not to duplicate the original too closely nor attempt to duplicate Page’s solo – and Plant’s gleeful vocal seemed to suggest that he was having a blast revisiting this old number but without being overly reverent. When Skin played his own solo, Plant slung the microphone over his shoulder so that it was dangling behind his back and danced around on the Persian rug that had been laid out over the stage.

This was the first time I’d heard “Freedom Fries” so I can’t describe it with any real justice. It featured a rhythmic electronic sample that was excruciatingly loud, accompanied by a hard-driving riff that will appeal to any fan of the Led Zeppelin sound. At one point, Plant sings, “promised land has become a promised HELL!” First impression was that, if the chorus wasn’t that memorable, the sound and texture of the song suggests it’ll a much-visited track on “Mighty Rearranger.” What is greatly apparent by now is that Strange Sensation feels like a real band rather than a group of players brought in to back a famous singer. Those months of rehearsal and writing in one of Peter Gabriel’s studios in Bath has created a unit that has discovered its own sound. I now believe this is the best band Plant has had during his solo years. They’re a very entertaining group to watch, too. Justin Adams doesn’t resort to any of the usual guitar hero poses but likes to hunch his back and bend down when he’s riffing away. At other times he slowly spins around in a circle in one spot by standing with one leg firmly rooted while the other moves around in a circular circumference. Skin Tyson, whose scraggly hair and beard makes him look like the guitarist in “Almost Famous,” loves to shake his guitar vigorously to wring every last echo out of a note he is sustaining. Even Billy Fuller, the new bass player, is far more entertaining to watch than the recently departed Charlie Jones (now a member of Goldfrapp).

After an introduction about how the 1960s produced songs with a social conscience, John Baggott’s keyboards led into a superb version of “Morning Dew.” This was a much longer version than those of the “Dreamland” tour. I loved Skin’s e-bow on the guitar on this as well as the lengthy keyboard solo that had a distinctly Doors-like feel as well as a few ethereal moments. In all, the best version I’ve heard of the song to date and even more vibrant than the Priory of Brion renditions. The red lighting on stage, which matched the crimson walls of Irving Plaza, only enhanced the mood.

This show seemed to have a higher-than-average ratio of Zep songs than any previous Plant tours and I have mixed feelings about that. I’d dearly love to hear more of Plant’s older solo material but I imagine he feels like this is a new band, a new entity, and it’s best to concentrate on the material they’ve produced in addition to the Zeppelin stuff that he knows people want to hear. Like other older numbers, “Black Dog” doesn’t try to mirror the original too closely. Of course the call and response aspect remains intact and it’s a quite justly a real crowd pleaser. “I can’t hear you,” Plant would tease, and the 1,800 people responded accordingly. Next, Robert told the audience that the “Dreamland” album was amazingly successful and the crowd recognized “Darkness Darkness” from the radio play it had received. This version sounded little different from others we’ve heard over the past few years but, as with every song that evening, Plant invested his vocal with real passion and commitment.

I should break in with a bulletin about what Plant was wearing, for all the fashion followers. Cowboy boots with an intricate design on the leather, faded jeans, and a faint-yellow T-Shirt that looked white in the spotlight.

Next up: The acoustic set. A straightforward version of “That’s The Way” with Justin on mandolin. Beautiful. I really like the new ballad, “All the King’s Horses.” It’s as delicate as a wisp but bouyed by an emotional delivery. A tribute to Tim Hardin preceded “If I were a Carpenter,” which featured a lovely solo by Justin.

The cauldron came to a boil once more with a new number: “Tin Pan Valley.” Robert introduced the song by saying something to the effect that it was a song about his time (the lyrics are about how his musical peers have sold out and mellowed out) and concluded, perhaps disingenuously, by noting that the song was an optimistic one. “All my songs are optimistic,” he added. I had no idea what to expect from the song, which starts off fairly sedately. Suddenly, Plant shouts “LIKE THIS!” and Justin comes crashing in with a MONSTROUS guitar riff. It felt like someone had opened a door and a hurricane had come gusting through. What a cool riff! (Somewhere, Jimmy Page is weeping.) One of the evening’s top moments.

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You was the same version of recent years but that didn’t mean that the band switched to autopilot. Skin played a stunning guitar solo with some lovely, crystal clear notes that shimmered as if we were listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green in his prime.

One of the best Plantations of the night began with Robert telling us that music in Britain during the 1950s was “flaccid” and “limp” until a certain singer emerged from Tupelo, Mississippi. He went on to say that one time, when the singer was shooting one of his many televisions, he said… [starts singing] “I’m like a stray cat running in the heat of the night…” Now, I’ve always been luke warm about “Tall Cool One” but tonight Plant turned this one into magic. This version was sped up and had a slightly rockabilly feel. For some reason the chorus (“lighten up baby, I’m in love with you…”) sounded great for the first time to these ears. During the mid section, Plant called his two guitarists over to the center of the stage and encouraged them to duel. Like a referee, Plant directed his two guitar players to stand toe to toe and then he called Billy Fuller over to face off with his shoe touching the other shoes. It looked like a Mexican stand off in the middle of the stage and Plant and the others were cracking up. The energy, at this point, was infectious and it was great to see the singer reveling in the experience. Nothing jaded about him at all.

The absolute highlight of the night was the reinterpretation of “When the Levee Breaks.” It starts with most of the band at the front of the stage (Fuller played an upright bass) and the song began acoustically with Plant singing the familiar melody. At certain points the band sang back up vocals with the expertise of a barbershop quartet. This gospel-y, bluegrass-y rendition sounded like it could slot onto the soundtrack of “O’Brother Where Art Thou.” When the song begins to speed up, a muted sample of John Bonham’s drums from the original come in just as drummer Clive Deamer crashes in with his drum kit. The song starts to really rock out with Plants voice becoming increasingly impassioned and urgent during the “going down, going down now” part. This is a truly inspired version. When Plant sang “bye, bye” at the song’s climax, he meant it and the band exited stage right.

Encore! “The Enchanter” from “Mighty Rearranger” is a killer track. It’s blend of Eastern scales, blues slide guitar (think “In My Time of Dying”) and an electronica coda make this the most impressive track I’ve yet heard from the new album. It’s great to hear Bristol boys John Baggott and Clive Deamer (band members of Portishead and collaborators with Massive Attack) assert their sound on this and other new tracks. The end of this song was when Plant really showcased the power and might of his vocals. Goose bumps!

And then, shortly before midnight, it was nearly all over. I had hoped to hear the title track from the new album since other reports from previous shows have raved about how great this song is. But instead “Whole Lotta Love” began with the same bluesy “you need love” arrangement as the last tour. The classic guitar riff sounded so fresh, so dynamic, that it was like hearing the song for the first time. Robert really let rip with his vocals (which he’d been lubricating with a red-ish juice and also a mug of tea all evening). The freak out section was very effective – a blend of manic drumming, theramin, wails from Robert and outlandish guitar sounds. Again, the guitarists made no attempt to emulate Page’s solo like the 1993 tour when Francis Dunnery’s virtuosic talents handled that part of the song. Plant paused for a moment and told the crowd he’d been singing this line for 38 years (!!!) and then sang, “woman, you need, uh…..” and then he went for the highest note I’ve heard him hit in several years. Not quite as high as the top notes he was reaching between ’93 and ’98, perhaps, but it was still a wow to hear him get up that high at his age and he sounded better than during the “Dreamland” or “Priory” days. Plant and Skin reached out and clasped each other’s fingertips and the band lined up for a bow. A great end to a great night. Plant looks so refreshed, so invigorated, so excited by what he’s doing that it’s quite infectious. He’ll be back in the US this summer and I, for one, cannot wait to revisit Thursday evening’s Sensations

This from Corey Rossman
The opening band, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, reminded me of a cross between The Who and The Moody Blues, though I can’t speak for others’ opinions. You gotta love a fat, bearded, hairy John Bonham clone as a lead singer who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Robert and the band came on a little after 10pm. White t-shirt, blue jeans. They played pretty much the same show as previous outings this tour, albeit with a bit of setlist, ahem, rearranging. All in all, it was a very enjoyable show. He really does still sound great. A couple of memories: when introducing Morning Dew, he said with a smirk, “This one comes from our fabulously successly album ‘Dreamland’.” Also, right before the final crushing crescendo of ‘You need…Loooooooovvvvvvvveeeeeeee’ at the end of Whole Lotta Love, he paused for at least ten seconds, shook his head, and said, “You know, I’ve been singing this for 36 years, and all anybody wants to hear is this part”, or something to that effect.

This guy just keeps improving, and growing, and stretching out in fantastic new directions. The new material makes it seem like he picked up right where he left off with ‘Fate of Nations’, and kept going, and I have absolutely NO qualms with that. He did a lot last night to prove that the introduction given by a local radio announcer was right on the mark: He is the greatest rock vocalist ever.

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