Robert Plant has been trapped in the dusty tomb of classic-rock radio long enough.
On a snowy Thursday night, the erstwhile Led Zeppelin frontman reminded a sold-out Orpheum Theatre that he’s still making vital music while nodding graciously to the influences that helped shape the towering sound of his legendary former band.
His famous mane tied back in a man bun (pulling off the look far more stylishly than Thom Yorke), the 69-year-old Plant looked fighting fit in a greenish-gold patterned satin shirt. And while his hips don't swivel like they once did and his shirt stayed buttoned up, Plant still has the swagger and charisma to ensure he's the coolest guy in every room he enters.
Plant was flanked by his all-British five-piece backing band, the Sensational Space Shifters, who added different styles and flourishes to Plant's older material while giving his new tunes a fresh, vibrant pulse. The three tracks the band played from 2017's Carry Fire were among the highlights of the 100-minute set. "New World…" emphatically started the show, "The May Queen" harkened back to "Stairway to Heaven" (with Plant dedicating it to "the Princess of Summer"), and the Indian-influenced title track was a showstopper, with blood-red flames and historical iconography filling the backdrop—the only time visuals were used during the set.
Plant sprinkled a generous selection of Zep classics throughout the performance as well. For a tender acoustic run-through of "Going to California" (making its tour debut), Plant reworked the lyrics, singing "I'm going to Minnesota with an aching in my heart" with his hand placed affectionately on his chest. "That song is still as lovely as the day it was written," he said as it wrapped up. Another surprise was a stripped-down version of the Led Zeppelin III cut "Friends," which evoked emotional memories of mates we've all made along our life's journey.
"It's great to be back here," Plant announced early in the show. "We didn't think we'd been here [the Orpheum Theatre] before, then we saw us on a sign on the wall, for fuck's sake, and now we know we've been here before." The elegant theater was a perfect fit, with Plant's voice resonating warmly over his band’s rollicking tones. Guitarist Skin Tyson played with a bluesy, acoustic flair, while Justin Adams’ guitar added a rowdy, rockabilly style. They complemented each other perfectly.
But the set wasn't all bombast and brawn. Many of the tunes had the communal feel of an Irish céilí, with violinist (and opening act) Seth Lakemen contributing a folksy intimacy. Plant doesn't seem interested in perpetuating the myth of his Rock God status any longer; he'd rather let his guard down and share bits of his soul with his fans while he still has the time.
An epic version of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" anchored the end of the main set. You can't be timid when delivering such an anguished tune, and Robert Plant has been owning anguished rock songs for over four decades now. His pained wail at the start of the second verse was alone worth the price of admission.
"Some bands borrow from the blues, but where I'm from we outright steal it," Plant said cheekily as the main set came to an end. And the covers he chose—"Little Maggie," "Fixin' to Die," and a boisterous "Gallows Pole"—showed how the blues shaped Zep's early sound, and indeed Plant's entire musical career.
A smoldering, keys-laden version of Plant's 1983 solo hit "In the Mood" kicked off the encore, punctuated with the rousing call to arms, "You know what, people? I'm in the mood!" And indeed, Plant was in fine spirits and great voice throughout the show, though he leaned heavily on his band for the closing medley, as a fiery snippet of "Bring It On Home" gave way to a tempestuous "Whole Lotta Love." An old sea shanty, "Santianna," was mixed in for good measure before the band returned to the stormy Led Zeppelin II classic to end the night with a potent shot, reminding us all (if we even needed reminding) how much that band transformed the sound and style of rock and roll. And Robert Plant is still taking that sound in exciting new directions, offering up a whole lot more love in the process.
See our full photo gallery from the show here.
Turn It Up
The May Queen
Going to California
All the Kings Horses
Please Read the Letter
Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You
Fixin' to Die
In the Mood
Bring It On Home/Whole Lotta Love/Santianna/Whole Lotta Love