Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Thurs 25 Oct
“No Stairway? Denied!” The immortal words, that still ring true for a great number of music store owners bereft of patience. Stairway To Heaven may have been the first Led Zeppelin song I ever heard, but it by no means encapsulates the band, or the lyrical talents of lead singer Robert Plant. After hearing his new work, I came out of the Wales Millennium Centre with a new appreciation for the sheer diversity of Plant’s new sounds.
Seth Lakeman, an English folk singer with a versatile knowledge of instruments ranging from violin to banjo, began the night as the support act for Plant, before joining the latter onstage as part of his band, the Sensational Space Shifters. Lakeman and band, meanwhile, demonstrated their vast knowledge of British folklore, stringing together songs of Welsh mining disasters and tales of a lonely, mysterious grave. All of this swam along with a consistent, chirpy folk melody, Lakeman bounding around the stage with visible glee supported by the duet of double bass and banjo.
Robert Plant entered the stage with an unassuming gait, and until he began singing I couldn’t be certain it was him – this was a different Plant than I was accustomed to seeing on old tapes of 70s Led Zep concerts. Standing before us was an experienced, worldly musician with a 50-plus-year high-level career under his belt – yet Plant conveyed an innate humbleness throughout the entire show.
We were treated to an array of his new work, arrangements of classic blues tracks, and staples of his time as the lead singer of Led Zeppelin. Fronting the Sensational Space Shifters, though, you can feel how each culture has influenced Plant’s style – he cites the sounds of Memphis and African culture as significant inspirations. Plant also demonstrated a bit of vulnerability, as he gave a heartfelt thanks to his lead guitarist, Justin Adams, for supporting him through the last few years.
Apart from one snag during the performance (which Plant hilariously played off), the evening was a true tour de force. Rather than a cavalcade of face-melting solos, this was a warm, intimate performance from one of the great rock’n’roll legends.
words ELIS DOYLE photos SIMON AYRE