BWW Review: ROBERT PLANT, Royal Albert Hall
In January 1970, Led Zeppelin played the Royal Albert Hall, widely lauded as one of their most famous gigs. Robert Plant has returned once again, this time as part of a tour with the Sensational Space Shifters that has visited the length and breadth of the UK and will soon head to America, Canada and Australia.
Seth Lakeman plays on some of the band's new album ("Carry Fire"), and so has "come along on this adventure" with them. As well as playing in the main set, he had the task of opening the entire show: a folk one-man-band taking centre stage in the vastness of the Royal Albert Hall. Whilst his music is more often performed in slightly more intimate surroundings, he seemed completely at home and a natural showman.
Kicking off with the rousing "The Hurlers", he took us on a whistlestop tour of his decade-long career, including a moving tribute to the Penlee lifeboat disaster ("Solomon Browne"), a new song dedicated to teachers ("An Educated Man"), and an astounding version of perhaps his most famous song, "Kitty Jay". It was a bit of a shame that there was such a gap between acts, as Lakeman had definitely warmed up the capacity crowd by the end of his short set.
Then the wait was finally over, as the Sensational Space Shifters made their way onto the stage, with Robert Plant ramping up the anticipation and leaving it until the very last moment to make his first appearance.
Opening with "New World..." got things going in fine style, and they played a few more songs from their recent number three album over the course of the night between numbers from past albums and some artists that have inspired them over the years. Real highlights in the cover version department were "Little Maggie" (originally by the Stanley Brothers) and Bukka White's "Funny in my Mind (I Believe I'm Fixin' To Die)", reinvigorated by the incredible live band. The reimagined Led Zeppelin song "Misty Mountain Hop" closed the main set in style, and is as revolutionary now as it was in 1971.
It wouldn't be a proper gig without an encore, of course, and they had saved some of their best for last. They started with "What Is and What Should Never Be", before inviting special guest Chrissie Hynde to the stage for a couple of duets. She features on the latest album in a cover of Ersel Hickey's "Bluebirds Over The Mountain" and, as it is in the run up to Christmas, it seemed only right for her to take the lead on a version of The Pretenders' "2000 Miles", with Plant joining in where he could.
Ending with "Whole Lotta Love" was an absolute masterstroke; it was a thrill to hear that iconic riff blast out around the Royal Albert Hall, with Plant's unique vocals topping it off. None of this would have been possible without the fantastic musicianship of the band, with entertaining and virtuoso performances from Skin Tyson, Seth Lakeman and Justin Adams, amongst others.
It's fascinating to see the evolution of an artist like Robert Plant, beginning as an out and out rock god and slowly accumulating influences and collaborators as his career progressed. This has led to the development of a sound as individual as his voice, and they definitely know how to put on one heck of a show - there's life in the Black Dog yet!
Picture credit: Andy Paradise