Plant mixes mystical and music
Ex-Led Zeppelin frontman melds a range of sounds
Bob Gendron, Special to the Tribune
Jul 11, 2005
Robert Plant emerged onstage under cover of darkness, his shadowy figure camouflaged by plumes of incense.
With half of his Strange Sensation quintet slapping hand drums, the former Led Zeppelin frontman began a 100-minute set with an earthy “No Quarter” that could have passed for a tribal chant emanating from the Saharan outback.
The spiritual overhaul of the rippling jazz-rock fusion song marks the latest in an ongoing series of transitions for Plant, who, after spending the ’80s crafting diversified music and the bulk of the ’90s reliving past glories, recently delved back into the mystical by melding exotic world sounds with their Western descendants. Saturday night at Auditorium Theatre, he played the role of a mighty rearranger and blended electronic ambience, Moroccan rhythms, Malian grooves, Indian ragas and English folk with biting hard rock and weeping blues.
At 56, Plant is no longer the bare-chested Dionysian sex symbol he was in the ’70s, but still receives the adoration befitting a rock god. The sold-out crowd worshiped his every move, and the trim Tall Cool One didn’t shy away. He thrust his pelvis, twirled microphone cords and knocked stands to the ground. He was careful to lean in the path of ventilation that majestically blew his golden curly hair over his shoulders, and communicated with playful banter.
He could have coasted on charm, but Plant’s greatest asset remains his expressively dynamic voice. Although age now prevents him from reaching upper-register highs, his banshee wails, prolonged moans and honeydripper soul boiled with carnal suggestiveness. He performed “Black Dog” at half the original’s tempo, engaging in a tug-of-war with guitarist Skin Tyson over the direction of the tumbling progression. Accompanied by acoustic guitar, mandolin, maracas and stand-up bass, Plant lay in the high grass for “That’s the Way” and brought “Hey Hey What Can I Do” on home using straw tones and intoxicating melodies that cast the country shuffle as a railroad box-car lament.Even when the experimentation failed, Plant’s modern forays into multiethnic soundscapes were rewarding. The Strange Sensation met the singer’s redemptive moods and restless vibes head-on with scampering boogies, ancient percussion, enchanting textures and pearly psychedelia. Refusing to settle for rote nostalgia, the Chicago-bound “When the Levee Breaks” was refashioned as a stomping desert blues, the band howling in harmony like a pack of wolves at the moon. Excessive mysteriousness occasionally muddled the message. An uneven pace trampled underfoot a cover of Bonnie Dobson’s protesting “Morning Dew,” while bongos and “Heartbreaker” proved a mismatch.
Before closing, Plant acknowledged the hometown greats who inspired him. He noted how he felt privileged to meet up hours earlier with Otis Clay at the Old Town School’s Folk & Roots Festival and framed the encore with a few bars from Muddy Waters, declaring that “those sounds that came out of Chess studios in Chicago brought me here.”
(Copyright 2005 by the Chicago Tribune)Return To Main Reviews page