Robert Plant is no stranger to the term “reinventing oneself.” After the demise of Led Zeppelin, he wrought a new version of his creative self, with two different solo bands compiling three albums each. After that came a brief detour from solo work for musical exploration with pal Jimmy Page on an album and tour. The early 2000’s brought the Strange Sensation. In 2008, a collaboration with country/bluegrass artist Alison Krauss, which brought Plant something that has eluded him most of his career, critical acclaim. Yet, no follow-up to Raising Sand. The duet with Krauss was followed by yet another change of direction, with the reformation of Band of Joy.
Plant’s latest musical distraction is his association with the Sensational Space Shifters. Plant and Co. brought their Carry Fire tour to the Orpheum Theater on a rainy Friday, March 2nd. The historic 92-year-old venue’s nearly 2,000 seats are sold out and filled with many 50-60 somethings. At ten o’clock, the house lights dim and the P.A. plays the intro to Plant’s 1983 hit, In the Mood on a loop for about a minute as the band takes their spots on the stage. The crowd erupts when the stage lights come up and Plant assumes the microphone for New World, with its slow melodic riff. New World stands in antipathy to Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, and laments the settlement of the Americas and the subsequent treatment of their native inhabitants.
After four Space Shifter tunes, the crowd rises to its feet spontaneously when Liam Tyson plays the opening chords of That’s the Way. Tyson, along with Justin Adams, playing the mandolin on this particular tune, share alternating lead guitar duties. Tyson has more of a traditional rock style, while Adams has more of a rockabilly, folk style, with both of them meeting on the common ground of the blues. Please Read the Letter, a Page/Plant tune, which Plant also recorded with Krauss, is an unexpected treat, expressed like the Plant/Krauss version. Seth Lakeman, violist/fiddleist provides a nice backing harmony and solo to the tune. Lakeman also provided a solo warm up for the show with a half hour set of celtic-style folk tunes.
After a double-time depiction of Gallows Pole comes the title track of their latest release, Carry Fire. The Spanish-style acoustic guitar intro carries through with a tribal drumbeat from Dave Smith and an eastern-inspired keyboard backdrop from John Baggott. The tune builds tempo midway through but Plant’s haunting lyrics remain constant. The song is punctuated with a blistering electric guitar solo from Tyson in the same Spanish-style. The finale of the main set is an almost musically unrecognizable and enchanting bluegrass version of Misty Mountain Hop.
When the Space Shifters return for their encore, they play a stripped down version of the aforementioned In the Mood, featuring Billy Fuller on stand-up bass. The portrayal of this tune is not in the ilk of the funky original. It sounds more like a coffee-house crooner with the band’s presence almost imperceivable, yet most definitely there. The evening’s finale is a medley of Whole Lotta Love sandwiched around the traditional folk song Santianna. The song ends with the band finger waving and chanting “Lo-ove” to the audience.
One might think that with such a propensity for change of direction, Plant may be wandering aimlessly in a search for musical fulfillment. The current path on which Mr. Plant finds himself quite possibly implies just that. Could it be that instead of some grand plan, Plant is just taking forks in the road, not knowing where those roads lead and perhaps he is simply enjoying the journey and nothing more?
As a footnote, the sound for this show was impeccable. Kudos go out to the sound crew for their contribution. When volume level eight will do, many sound people tend to cotton to the “this one goes to eleven” moniker. With the subtleties of the instruments for this show, the volume was exactly right, with clean drum sound.
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