Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters – Bournemouth Academy – 10th November 2014

(Images sourced online as labelled for reuse)

 

Robert Plant is a musical adventurer: If anybody keeps alive Led Zeppelin’s unofficial motto of ‘ever onward’ it is him, and with the Sensational Space Shifters he has put together a band who are equally adventurous, each member having come from contrasting musical backgrounds.

The Bournemouth Academy has a capacity of 1,800, but Plant makes it feel far more intimate with his warm between-song chat. Not so much a gig as catching up with an old friend. CA - Robert_Plant_Lullaby_and_the_Ceaseless_Roar_cover
Plant is, of course, promoting his Lullaby… And The Ceaseless Roar album, and five songs from that LP are included in the set. The album is very much a snapshot of where Plant is today, the songs being a potpourri of modern rock, African sounds, tribal rhythms and trip-hop. However, in a live setting that menu is added to: Rock And Roll, for example, starts with a monster electro riff of industrial proportions!

We’re also treated to three blues covers, of which Spoonful is so nigh on unrecognisable that it brings to mind some of Bob Dylan’s more ‘inventive’ live versions of his own classics. However, in Spoonful’s case, Plant demonstrates how a song, and indeed a genre, can be taken to a whole other place. On Bukka White’s Fixin’ To Die Plant steps back and lets his band rip on a much extended middle eight, which has waaaaaay more than eight bars. Juldeh Camara’s Gambian fiddle is positively otherworldly. It is not just confined to making African sounds either, as the Celtic tinged solo in Little Maggie illustrates.

No Robert Plant gig would be complete without some Led Zeppelin, and herein lies a bit of a problem for him. Many of the audience are here primarily to hear him sing Led Zeppelin songs.

CA - Plant 05 Plant starts his set with Friends from Led Zeppelin III, which is sufficiently Sensational Space Shiftered so as not to make it immediately recognisable. Going To California is pretty authentic, with an acoustic guitar and mandolin arrangement. A straight version of What Is And What Should Never Be gets by far the loudest cheer of the evening up to that point. Plant acknowledges the applause with a wry smile. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You is also played straight, and features an exceptional flamenco-flavoured acoustic guitar solo from Skin Tyson. CA - Plant & Page 77

The set concludes with an epic Whole Lotta Love which commences with slow 12-bar snippets of I’m A King Bee and I Just Want To Make Love To You before the main course is served. Herein lies Plant’s problem. Despite his musical searching, seeking and exploring, 34 years after the demise of Led Zeppelin he is still their singer, no matter what efforts he makes to escape. Perhaps the answer for him lies with this band, and with the kind of set delivered tonight. A set mixing his newer material with adventurous re-readings of his musical back pages delivered by an eclectic rag bag of musicians who have a similar need to explore.

By eschewing the possibility of a full Led Zeppelin reunion and the additional millions that it would bring, Robert Plant has chosen the more difficult, and indeed exciting, road to travel. He and his cohorts take Western music to Africa and all points North, South, East and West before ending up somewhere between West Bromwich and Bron-y-Aur. Why don’t you join them? It’ll be quite a trip.

                                                                                             Mark Kelly

 

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