Robert Plant really needs no introduction as he is, rightly, considered one of the best rock frontmen and singers of all time. His work in the late 1960s and 1970s with the pioneering rock band Led Zeppelin is nothing short of legendary and he is one of the individuals who made rock music what it is today. Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980, and ever since Plant has been doing his own thing musically, and has released new albums regularly over the years. While Plant's early solo work carried on his hard rock sound, more recently he has mellowed a fair bit exploring acoustic and blues music in more detail. Of course, these sounds are nothing new for Plant, as Led Zeppelin's extremely diverse sound contained plenty of both, but it is these areas where Plant's heart truly seems to lie now. Last month Plant released his eleventh solo album Carry Fire, his second with his current backing band the Sensational Space Shifters, which emphasises the blues, acoustic, and world music elements of his sound, with a little rock thrown in for good measure. In support of the album, Plant announced a fairly extensive UK tour, which included his first ever visit to Plymouth, so of course I snapped up a ticket as soon as they went on sale. The Pavilions has never been the best venue in the world, and it is also criminally underused, which makes evenings there a rare and special occasion. Sadly the South West is more often than not missed off tour schedules, so it was great to see an artist of Plant's calibre kicking off his new tour in Plymouth! Unsurprisingly the venue was full throughout the evening, and the crowd were clearly into the music from the off.
Local folk hero Seth Lakeman had the task of kicking off the evening and warming up the crowd. Despite him being a big name locally, this was the first time that I had seen him live and he impressed from the off with his confidence, vocal skills, and multi-instrumental prowess. Lakeman, who is also currently an honourary member of the Sensational Space Shifters and appeared onstage with Plant during a number of his songs, only had half an hour onstage but he made it count with a short but powerful set. It is my understanding that he is usually accompanied by a band, but this show saw him taking the stage alone armed with violins, guitars, and a lute. Many of his songs are inspired by the West Country, so it was fitting that he received a good reception from the crowd. He ended his set with Kitty Jay, a song which brought him quite considerable success a few years ago, and he walked off to a big cheer.
After a fairly quick changeover, the lights went down and Plant's band shuffled onto the stage against a backdrop of rhythmic chanting, and immediately went into the bluesy rock of Led Zeppelin's The Lemon Song. Despite Plant's more mellow outlook these days, he still showcases his past in his sets, and the heavy blues of this song kicked things off perfectly. Guitarists Liam Tyson and Justin Adams seemed to relish the chance to riff and solo like rock stars, before the song morphed into New World... from Plant's new album. Despite this being the Carry Fire tour, only four songs from the album were showcased in Plymouth, with the set drawing from throughout Plant's long career. The tough Turn It Up, from his last album Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar, was an early highlight that proves that Plant can still rock out when he wants to. The sparser The May Queen, from the new album, was a change of pace with Lakeman's violin dominating; as was the delicate Led Zeppelin track That's the Way. What was clear throughout the set is just what a great bunch of musicians Plant has surrounded himself with recently, and this was showcased on a drastic re-working of Gallows Pole which took on a certain country bent. Carry Fire, the title track from his new album, was a real showcase for the skills of Adams as he peeled off those Middle Eastern melodies with ease. Another highlight was Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, which was a staple of Led Zeppelin's early shows, which showed that Plant's voice has always been best suited to singing the blues. The emotion that he can inject into his delivery really shone through here. After a few more predominantly acoustic numbers, the main set came to an end with a re-working of Led Zeppelin's Misty Mountain Hop. While I prefer the original arrangement, this new version worked well for this current band, and he left the stage to a standing ovation. He came back on for a couple more. The first song was a version of the old traditional number Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down, and the second was a loose arrangement of the Led Zeppelin classic Whole Lotta Love, which unsurprisingly brought the house down. The setlist was:
The Lemon Song [Led Zeppelin material]
Turn It Up
The May Queen
That's the Way [Led Zeppelin material]
All the King's Horses
In the Light [Led Zeppelin material]
Gallows Pole [Traditional American folk song]
Babe I'm Gonna Leave You [Anne Bredon cover]
Little Maggie [Traditional American folk song]
Bluebirds Over the Mountain [Ersel Hickey cover]
Funny in my Mind (I'm Believe I'm Fixin' to Die)
Misty Mountain Hop [Led Zeppelin material]
Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down [Traditional American folk song]
Whole Lotta Love [Led Zeppelin material]
Overall, this was an excellent night of live music from one of the real legends of the business. While Plant certainly does not rock as hard now as he used to, this was still a consummate performance full of beautiful songs.