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Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters - Bristol, Colston Hall - 29th August 2013 Print E-mail
Written by Jamie Richards   
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 03:40

Plant 3


I had to stop for a minute to calculate that this gig at Colston Hall would in fact be the 15th time I’d been witness to the incredible live presence of the unmistakable, unshakable, lemon-squeezing Golden God himself, Robert Plant. It’s always been 100% a pleasure I have to say, after all if it wasn’t why would I keep going? But I admit the previous two occasions, being the Raising Sand and Band of Joy tours, I did if I’m honest, find the likes of Alison Krauss, T-Bone Burnett and Buddy Guy too much of a distraction, not for me you understand, but for Robert. It’s true that ensconced in the bosom of some his greatest heroes, our man Plant was only too keen to occasionally occupy the shadows and supply backing vocals, and this is indeed proof of the humility of the man, but for me it was also THE biggest waste of THE best frontman rock music has ever known.


So here in the vintage surroundings of the Colston Hall, in the historic city of Bristol, which has been home to some of Robert’s Strange Sensation’s biggest conquests over the years, it was great to see the old band re-assembled (albeit with added African flavours) to remind us all just how amazing an outfit they are. Yeah I admit it was me on the chat rooms and forums of the world crying out for Led Zeppelin NOT to reform for a world tour after the London encounter of 2007, a lonely voice in a million, I yearned for the reconvening of the Strange Sensation who I had seen just four months before that O2 date, and what a night it had been in that field in South Wales; it was an awful long way, in miles as well as in feeling, from the media circus that surrounded the man on that famous night in London. And, tonight in Bristol, I finally got to see Robert with his ‘old band’, well the old band I wanted to see at least.


Plant 2From the moment Skin (real name Liam Tyson, rescued from Brit pop also ran’s Cast a decade or so ago) pulled up a stool and let fly with some exceptional Sergio Leone inspired Spanish guitar, you just got the feeling tonight was going to be a bit special, and as Robert loomed nonchalantly from the shadows to take the mic’, the unmistakable opening chords of ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ ensured that tonight was indeed very special, already. ‘Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down’, which Plant reinterpreted on his ‘Band of Joy’ expedition a few years back, is yet again given a new make-over, this time as a spaced-out-folk-blues ditty, and over the course of almost two hours Robert Plant does what he does best these days, he sings as individually as he ever has done, he engages the audience in his genial and insightful between song patter, but most of all he grooves and conducts a band that he is so obviously totally in love with being in.


Highlights are hard to pick out because they are many, but along the journey we get incredible treats, like yet another re-invention Of Bukka White’s ‘Fixin to Die’ which was first visited on the orgasmic ‘Dreamland’ album, and wonderfully faithful versions of Zeppelin classics like ‘Friends’ and ‘What is and What Should Never Be’. Each song delivered impeccably by each band member, underpinned by the psychedelic keyboard machinary of John Baggot, and occasionally given extra spiritual feeling, and general dance-ability by Juldeh Camara and his amazing range of authentic African instruments. It really is a journey through the birth of blues and rock music that also takes you around the world, and helps you realise we really are all nothing more than ‘Another Tribe’, which conveniently is also the title of another cosmic re-invention by the Space Shifters tonight (originally found on ‘Mighty Rearranger’). ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with an extended mid-section that evolved into a full on jam through ‘Who Do You Love’ leaves even the soberest among the audience twitching at the seams such is the songs bewitching properties in this guise, and let us please not forget that the version on ‘Led Zeppelin II’ was actually nothing more than a brilliant cover version itself; that’s the beauty of what Robert Plant is doing these days, he’s acknowledging that these musical vignettes we call songs, really are just fluid pieces of rhythmic sound that can continue to be exciting, if they are allowed to evolve and be influenced by different times and cultures.


Returning for an encore that surprises everyone, Plant’s 1983 mega hit ‘Big Log’ gets not only a rare outing, but also a fresh new makeover that rinses away all the over polished, sickly slick 80s production that hampered the original in favour of an almost new-age vibe, probably summed up best my Uber colleague Johnny H as sounding more than a little like “f*ckin’ Portishead”. The set ends with yet another Zeppelin song, ‘Rock and Roll’ being re-worked into beautiful submission by the band, amusingly it also illustrated the blind devotion of what I like to refer to as “the denim jacket brigade”, as an Iron Maiden t-shirted man next to me is overcome to the point of air-guitaring along, obviously with the original version in his head rather than the driving, African beat infested, witch doctor interjected boom-fest that the majority of us are blissfully engulfed in.


Plant 1


There was a dark time in Robert Plant’s life when he left Led Zeppelin in 1975, and apparently swore to give it all up and become a teacher, he was as we all know, persuaded to re-join the band and give up his simple dream of spreading knowledge. Strange thing is though, it would seem to me that Robert has indeed become a teacher after all, since my first Plant live encounter in 1989 I have been turned onto all sorts of amazing music by the man, whether it be his own present or past, or something he himself loves and he feels worth sharing (as is often the case) and long may it continue; and like all the best teachers he allows you to learn almost accidentally, and he always, but always puts a smile on your face. Tonight in Bristol was simply the latest lecture by the most learned and enthusiastic scholar of music, I for one have ever been witness to. I look forward to our 16th date.


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