ROBERT PLANT AND THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS
Bath Festival Finale Weekend, Bath Spa, May 27 2018
This gig feels like a massive, swollen-ball bonus in the music lottery. After last year’s tour date prices shot out of reach just a few hours after going on sale, it seemed that Robert Plant would be hard to catch on the road, but a few 2018 festival dates means the Bath Festival Finale Weekend drops us in an oddly cozy outdoor setting with Bath Spa as a 360-degree backdrop. It’s welcoming and inviting, packed with roots and history.
A bit like the music we’re about to hear, right?
Link Wray’s 1958 strut Rumble is the walk-on track and our headliners kick things off with signature Zep II blueser, The Lemon Song. Didn’t see that one coming, but you know the Space Shifters’ score by now – whatever feels right IS right, and their gigs are never less than immersive. You jump in for the ride and see where it goes, knowing roughly – but not exactly – where you might end up. After The Lemon Song and Turn It Up, that ride takes in Carry Fire, Lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar, Led Zeppelins I-II-III-IV and Dreamland with just one other stop – Nashville/Clarksdale for Please Read the Letter. Introduced with an Alison Krauss anecdote and an impish “written by two geniuses” quip, it’s big and full-some, but Gallows Pole is the first gig moment, a gallop that drops all downtempo parts and pelts it from the off, fired by Seth Lakeman’s fiddle. After that, Carry Fire’s entrancing trip is widescreen heavy, and again Lakeman is central.
A brace of less-riffsome Zep tracks – Going to California and Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You – give Skin a chance to pick ‘n’ psyche, Little Maggie brings worldly beats, and the main set wraps with Funny In My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die). On the Dreamland record, it’s dusty, urgent, trancey. Here, it’s a toughed-up rock ‘n’ roller pushed by shuffling Radar Love drum patterns, and it’s stuff like this that make the Space Shifters a proper live experience. You don’t get the same old shit. They play with a Right Now vibe, locked in music’s moment whether it’s rock and roll, Touareg blues, Bristolian beats, misty mountain folk, Nashville/Appalachia or Zep perennials, or any mix they see fit to run with.
And Plant? His voice is bang on, as it has been since the first days of Strange Sensation in 2002. Of all the people from rock and pop’s first wave of mega bands, he, surely, is the one doing things with the most class, and though he’ll be leaving his 60s in a couple of months, he doesn’t look like he’s gonna wobble. No way.
If the encore brings the one dead cert in a Space Shifters gig – Whole Lotta Love – then the other near-cert is that it won’t follow the previous tour’s version, and it doesn’t. Out goes the slow desert intro. In comes the underplayed crunch of Bring It On Home ahead of THAT riff. Segue or what? Lakeman owns the theramin/ritti slot and all is well until the climactic home run gets cut short when half the band stop early. “I think that’s it,” says Plant of the ragged end. “Looks like we’ve fucking finished.”
Does anyone care? Not out here, not a bit, and though it’s not the trippiest or out-there of Shape Shifter sets, nor is it too obvious a crowd-pleaser. As ever, Plant and the Sensational ones keep finding extra gears to cover more miles in music’s adventures.
The set list went something like this:
The Lemon Song
Turn It Up
The May Queen
Please Read the Letter
Going to California
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
Funny in my Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die)
Bring it on Home/Whole Lotta Love