Last night I got to see one of the best overall gigs I've ever been to. Irrespective of the actual quality of the music, I was in the presence of a Rock God – the legendary Robert Plant.
Venue: Hammersmith Palais – upon walking in I was quite surprised at how nice it was! Rendered/textured walls, doors which looked like padded upholstry (not sure what they actually were, cos I didn't go touch them), a cloth draped tent-interior-looking ceiling which underlined the Moroccan feel that Plant evokes, a big imposing row of MAC 2000s hanging from the front lighting bar like a line of huge sinister alien podules, and a thoroughly pumped up crowd. The venue was spacious, with a raised section, and holds about 2200, and yet at the same time had a fairly intimate feel.
The support band: As far as support acts go, this was damn good. At almost every gig I've been to the (non-famous) warmup band have been completely forgettable (with the exception of the unforgettably shite act that supported Hayseed Dixie in Islington last year, and the mime that supported Billy Connolly in 1995 – and even then I can't recall names!)… however Th' Legendary Shack Shakers broke that pattern convincingly. I suppose I'd describe their material as punk-thrash-rockabilly, and their lead singer cavorted around in a very strange manner. It wasn't like lots of other bands where you can tell the frontman's trying to do something weird & memorable to create an impression – this guy was just WEIRD. Excellent blues harmonicist though. I've never before seen anyone tear out handfuls of their own chest hair then run forward into the cloud of falling particles like autumn leaves dropping from a tree. He wasn't afraid of clearing his nostrils out into the crowd or spitting water at people either. They did a particularly cool version of “Ghostriders in the Sky”, and I liked “The Devil's Night Auction” as well (despite being unable to understand most of the lyrics due to the singer deciding to sing into his bluesharp mike).
The main act: I don't know whether it was part of the effect, but prior to the band coming on stage, one of the roadies deposited several big clumps of incense across the front of the stage, making the venue smell like sandalwood. I don't know whether it was because the stage smelt bad, or because they wanted to give the band a slightly mystical flavour, or whether they just like the smell of the stuff, but with that & the choice drum & bass they were pushing over the PA, man what a buildup. Here we were, about to see one of the founding members of the rock pantheon (and Britain's joint 621st richest man)…
To be honest, when they first came out and started playing it felt a bit disjointed. I think the name of the track (from their new album – Mighty Rearranger) they started with was Freedom Fries, but the style of the music and just looking at Robert Plant on stage made it seem like he was at one gig and the band were at another. It was like he'd been unable to find any rockers his own age and grabbed a bunch of kids with guitars from the nearest creche. If it hadn't been for the fact I was utterly transfixed by the sight of this icon, I'd have said I was slightly disappointed so far.
After a little crowd banter, they launched into their “latest radio hit – well, 2 plays on Radio 3 has to count for something”, Shine It All Around. At this point they transformed into a cohesive & fascinating group, and it became one band absorbed in creating some awesome music.
Things kicked on a little with a Zeppelin cover (is it really a cover if Plant sings it though ?) of Black Dog – although less hard guitar and more loungey almost ?
It then moved on to Going to California, at which point I nearly completely lost it. It became completely apparent why Plant had assembled this group; they were awesome !
Distractingly, I thought the bass player bore a passing resemblance to Adelaide musical phenomenon & bestselling author, Ryan Davidson (pictured).
Anyway, the night unfolded with more pickings from the new album, such as Another Tribe, Let The Four Winds Blow, and the epic masterpiece – The Enchanter – as well as solid renditions of the old classics, like Rock And Roll & Whole Lotta Love, and there was a fairly weird cover of Hey Joe (which it looks like he tackled on his previous album) which didn't exactly ring my bell, but hey you get that. The back catalogue songs were faithful takes on the originals, but with a slightly updated sound – not to replace those rock anthems, but certainly respectable augmentations which purists wouldn't find offensive (unlike the almost universally offensive album).
It was really weird I guess, because the image I get in my mind when I picture him wailing on a Zeppelin album is the 1973 Robert Plant, who Spiro sometimes resembles at times.
I realise that nobody maintains their youthful looks indefinitely, but it looked like his head has swollen up disproportionately from his body. But man, the boy can still sing.
In fact, in spite of the shaky beginnings, and the fact that this 6'3″ arsehole came and stood right in front of me about a minute before the band started, I'd say it's one of the better gigs I've been to this year. I'm pretty sure I'd have gone back on the Tuesday night to see them play again at The Forum, if it wasn't for the fact I'd booked to see Marillion on Monday night, and Porcupine Tree on Wednesday night.
And whether it was a serendipitous nod to Peter Grant, or just an unplanned coincidence, on the way back to the tube station there were plenty of street vendors selling pirate Led Zeppelin posters. Sory Pete, but I guess it WOULD happen in England or Europe.