ROBERT PLANT: live

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.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters tour t shirt 2018

Who else?

The set list went something like this:

The Lemon Song
Turn It Up
Rainbow
The May Queen
Please Read the Letter
Going to California
Gallows Pole
Carry Fire
Little Maggie
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
Funny in my Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die)
***
Bring it on Home/Whole Lotta Love

A pessimistic best-of-2014

REWIND DECEMBER: DC revivals, a cellar-bound phoenix and the heaviest music blues … things haven’t gone well

Festive greets and merry new years to anyone casting an eye over this page, even if you’ve got here by mistake. What tunes are you spinning over the hols? I don’t know about you but this time of year always brings about a change in listening choices over here. Plenty of storyteller stuff – Bob Dylan, Mark Lanegan, Tom Waits, Nick Cave – piling up alongside some warming Americana, cooling Icelandic/Scandi moods like Bjork and Cult of Luna, and an unhealthy dose of classic rock/metal by the bands we (I) grew up listening to, aka the DNA years.

And now that there’s an album called Rock or Bust grabbing a few acres of coverage in the music press, it’s AC/DC that are top-of-mind in the old band stakes. When was the last time you played For Those About to Rock end-to-end? Can’t remember? Then here’s what to do: crack open that blackengold gatefold, stand in front of the speakers and let its ten-track purity fire you back to simpler times. Sure, there are a couple of fillers, but with such stellar fare as Evil Walks, COD, Inject the Venom and Spellbound pressed into the wax, not to mention the triple A-grade quality of THAT title track, you’ve got a dead cert for a winter/Christmas playlist. Snowballed is even more of a seasonal bonus.

Before nominating a best-of-2014, what else has been going on?

Crippled Black Phoenix were in Oxford at the Cellar this month for a gig that was, sadly, a mite under-attended … by the band. To quote Commander Justin Greaves on this, the eve of a European tour:

‘You might have noticed we’re a couple short. The guitarist and bass player didn’t show up to rehearsals, they’re not here so … we’re gonna have to mix it up a bit. No guitar solos tonight. Well, not many.’ He introduces Arthur (?) on bass, who’s had to learn the songs in an afternoon.

Does it ruin the mood? Nah. I mean yeah, the solos are a soaring highlight when the Phoenix are in full flight (as they were at the Wheatsheaf a couple of years back) but, even without them, CBP’s modus operandi – expansive jams, Meddle-esque Floyd, Isis weight – is impossible to resist and a damn good show. Let’s hope they get everything resolved.

Right then. Best of 2014. It’s top 50 end-of-year mania in the real press, but we’re gonna cut that down by, I dunno, 47 or so, and mention a couple of highlights.

Earth: Primitive and Deadly. Mentioned this briefly in the last Rewind so no need to witter further here. Immerse yourself.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Spaceshifters: Lullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar. The Spaceshifters’ time is now, as anyone who saw their Glastonbury or Glastonbury Abbey or BBC Maida Vale gigs knows – they’re in the zone and having a ball with their kaleidoscopic tapestry of the trad, the tripped and the trance via north Africa, north America, desert blues and, of course, Plant’s own sprawling roots and thirst for musical adventure. With a truly global spirit at work, they’ve grabbed Mighty Rearranger’s cross-culture essence and given it some serious float. Having read how the band put this record together, I bet there are hours of outtakes, loops, offcuts and jams that would be mindblowing … what do you reckon? Multi-disc Lullaby Sessions for 2015? We can but wish.

Time for our last 2014 highlight in this festive break.

Did someone say ‘season of good cheer’?

Hardly. Not with an album called Things Haven’t Gone Well. Not with track titles like Failure, It’s Not Going to Get Better, Hopelessness and Worthlessness, and everybody’s favourite Christmas knees-up, Tremendous Misery Sets In.

Welcome to Music Blues, the 2014 solo project by Harvey Milk’s Stephen Tanner.

Is he taking the piss with all that? Probably not. The album was written during times of personal crises and depression, but despite the none-more-bleak titles and the squalid cover art, there’s triumph and – dare we say – optimism in the widescreen wrecking-ball slams metered out by Tanner’s Harvey-heavy slo-mo instrumental surges. If the hugeness of Boris (the massive bonus track on Smile, say) and Melvins (Lysol) has you grinning with jaw-dropped loonacy, Music Blues will surely do the same.

Of course, there are bags of albums missed this year but so what? Can’t catch ’em all, there’s always next year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Glastonbury Saturday

Still got doubts?

Sure. Lee. Not.

Metallica headlined Glastonbury and did exactly what they had to do – pulled it off with a festival-friendly yet thrash-infected set drawing heavily on the Ride/Black albums, and at least one cut from every record bar Load (surprisingly) and St Anger (not at all surprisingly).

So we got Fade, Nothing, One, Sad But True, Roam, Cyanide, Master, Nothing Else Mutters, Unforgotten and tonnes more biggies. Highlights included Memory Remains, its croaking Marianne steamrollered by mass na-na-nana, and Whisky in the Jar … ‘COZ IT’S WHISKY IN THE JAR-O, innit? Those tunes don’t get as much of a look-in these days, now that Metallica have plumped for the Metal more than the Rock in their live outings, and this was the place to revive a couple of those looser jams. Even the too-familiar Enter Sandbags sounded fresh again – every fecker in the field knows it so when that choked intro finally frees the monster hook that broke the band and sold a million (or 30) black albums, the release was huge.

Seek and Destroy brings the show to an end and it’s a show which, for all of its faux controversial (but undeniably fun) talking points, entertained. Striding that stage with total confidence, Metallica grabbed the moment, worked it hard and got a win-win out of it, or so it seemed from the TV. And while there won’t be a metal slot every time – maybe a hard-rock flourish for a year or two? – the time was right and Metallica were definitely the right band to do it. AC/DC next year?

Ahead of the night’s novelty-value shake-up, however, the man who brought the class and the Glastonbury spirit to Saturday’s Pyramid stage was – as ever – the mercurial Robert Plant.

Mining a seam of west African swirl ‘n trance mixed with those deep-set rock and roll sensibilities, Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters put on a show beyond reproach. Dreamland and Mighty Rearranger tracks get aired, as do a couple of newies (check the Perry Farrell-meets-Afro Celt air of Little Maggie), as do Zep classics – reworked, of course. Black Dog, now in its third incarnation following Plant-Krauss’s spooky two-step swing, is a beguiling prospect as its dusty psychedelia morphs into desert rave. Fresh as the first time you heard it. So is Funny in My Mind, its street-tough rockabilly makeover far removed from Dreamland’s take on it. Superlative stuff.

And this is what sets Plant and his band(s) apart. The explorer, the music fan as music maker, it’s these reworkings that keep the songs not just alive but LIVING – they’re timeless and increasingly formless, shapeshifting their way into whichever space and spirit is called for. Jimmy Page might be the curator of Zeppelin’s material, but Plant’s the one giving it new life in a global sense. In his hands, Zeppelin music becomes the trad arr of the modern day, ready for reinterpretation by whomever.

Which I guess is where Zep and Plant started anyway. Bring on the new Space Shifters record, it’s surely gonna be a bit special.