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Robert Plant - Cardiff, St David's Hall - 26th October 2010 Print E-mail
Written by Johnny H   
Thursday, 04 November 2010 05:02

Plant_Poster008For anyone who ever went to a gig at Cardiff's St David Hall during its Eighties hey day you'll no doubt remember it as the place any band wanting to play in Wales had to play. OK it had its' faults (more of that later), but going to shows there became as much a part of growing up as a music fan as the regulation mullet and bum fluff moustache.   Today, apart from the surrounding area now resembling any other American high street, the venue itself although structurally unchanged, has been devoid of anything rock for so long that the bar area has actually grown sofas...(are you starting to get my drift here?) And having been in the venue possibly only two or three times for gigs in the last ten years you'll perhaps forgive me for admitting that every time I do venture in it makes my metal heart weep.


But wait a minute what's this?  Is that the Hammer of the Gods I hear banging away over the hill and far away? Yes you guessed it, arriving in Cardiff as part of his relatively low key 'Band Of Joy' tour, St David's Hall have only gone and bagged a date with the one and only Mr Robert Plant.  Which seeing as the last time he was in town he was playing (with Alison Krauss) at the much larger Cardiff International Arena certainly warrants huge kudos to the venue.  But then Robert Plant has always possessed the knack for doing something a bit different when it comes to his Welsh dates. I've personally seen him play everything from full-scale arena rock and americana shows to much more humble club shows where he quite happily played cover versions all night.  Tonights show then being something of a mixture of all of those elements is perhaps somewhat fitting and totally representative of where Robert Plant currently finds himself within his seemingly never ending voyage of musical discovery.


Arriving on stage following an atmospheric World Music set from one time Strange Sensation guitarist Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara, Robert Plant and his Band Of Joy were soon ploughing headlong into 'Fate of Nations' album track 'Down To The Sea'. With the six-piece band silhouetted in low lighting to perfectly complement the cacophonous musical soundtrack it appeared that either everyone was so totally wrapped up in the the moment they had forgotten to react to the band's arrival on stage, or someone had snook in during the interval and comically superglued everyone's arses firmly to their seats.  As everyone, and I do mean everyone was rooted to the spot...strange.  The arrival of 'Angel Dancer' quickly put my latter theory to bed though as mid song what I can only describe as a renegade member of Pan's People spontaneously sprang into life in front of me, and finally I was starting to feel like I was at a gig, albeit one from perhaps around 1970.


Having already seen previous nights set lists from this tour (the hazard of the bloody internet), I have to admit to being a bit weary of what tonight might exactly entail, especially with tickets costing around £50, but when Robert Plant starts light-heartedly quipping about knowing he's made it when people are asking for tracks from his "best selling Tesco's special album" prior to the sublime 'House Of Cards', you can't help but warm to the humble and compelling nature in which Mr Plant goes about his day job these days.


Mixing the set up a bit you got a smattering of the solo years, a dash of the collaborative albums (the Page and Krauss albums both betting a nod), and of course some Led Zeppelin to keep the old school fans happy.  What you have to take into account though is the fact that  'Tall Cool One' is now delivered like a Sun Studios rock 'n' roll tune, 'Please Read The Letter' is pure country/folk and so is the banjo led main set closer 'Gallows Pole'. The latter always promising to explode but never quite tipping into the more well know version was pure musical genius.


For me the highlight of watching this show however wasn't the superb reinventions of Plant's back catalogue but more about the spirit of community that the Band of Joy conjures up.  This was probably best distilled into a segment mid set where the three main singers in Band of Joy all got their chance to take up the microphone.  With Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott, and the enigmatic Patty Griffin all following one after another I was honestly thinking "Planty must be worried about not being the best singer up there right now" But no, wait, one look stage left and there he is happily singing backing vocals and playing harmonica, grinning from ear to ear. That is what I'm on about, and if you could bottle that spirit of togetherness the world would be a much better place overnight.


Cherry picking the tracks from their recent album, perhaps the unbridled fun of 'You Can't Buy My Love' and the beautiful soundscapes of 'Monkey' best display the yin yang of what Band of Joy are all about in the live environment.  The encores did finally see people get to their feet and the sudden lunge towards the stage for another Zeppelin reworking, this time of 'Rock N Roll', probably had most of those involved grumbling of having aching limbs for days after.


Closing down proceedings with a version of the Grateful Dead's 'And We Bid You Goodnight' and leaving everyone baying for more, that unfortunately, as with the previous nights was it. Still two hours in the company of a musician forever rediscovering his love of music is always going to be engaging, it's just a shame that one of the many small faults I alluded to earlier regarding St David's Hall (as in its all seated) was there to put such an initial gap between the band and the crowd.


Making my way out into the cold night air I had a little chuckle to myself remembering the follies of our youth spent in this venue during most of the Eighties, and whilst amyl nitrate and mushrooms might still not be readily available over the counter in St David's Hall you would at least have thought that the venues archaic 'no cameras' rule might have been lifted by now....