Robert Plant, who left his hell-raising days behind him quite some time ago, is taking his small band of Americana junkies – Saving Grace – on a tour of even smaller venues, once again, including Monmouth and later, Aberystwyth. Dedicated to bringing world-class performances of traditional Appalachian music to towns across Britain, Saving Grace are resuming their pre-pandemic modus operandi of stopping off at every medium-sized theatre that will have them – which I imagine would be all – and the Monmouth and Aberystwyth dates are pre-Christmas presents you’ll be happy to unwrap early.
Seen on their last tour in 2019, Saving Grace conjured an incredible, moving intimacy in their studied, yet expansive, performances. As yet, the band haven’t been captured on record, so the unique sound of their two axemen, Tony Kelsey and Matt Worley, combining various fretboard instruments into a range of soundscapes, from rumbling to glacial, only exists on the live stage. Plant, who harmonises so beautifully with Suzi Dian, is currently in the middle of promoting his other male and female-fronted project: Raise The Roof, the long-awaited follow-up to his much-lauded collaboration with Alison Krauss, is finally with us. Fans of those two albums will find much to love in his pairing with Dian and the bands’ updating of traditional pre-country backings.
While you might not hear songs from Raise The Roof or much in the way of Led Zeppelin classics, it’s fair to say that Plant has a worthy catalogue of 21st-century music, from albums such as Mighty Rearranger, Carry Fire and 2014’s Lullaby And The Ceaseless Roar the sound of which Saving Grace most closely resemble.
On stage, Plant is at his most disarming: gone is the posturing that so embarrasses the now 73-year-old. But the magnitude of his presence is sometimes hard to square with the few-hundred-seat auditoriums witnessing the intimate banter he shares with the ‘local friends’ that join him on stage. Those who have seen him before will know what to expect, but for those who haven’t, get down to your local theatre soon. He won’t be playing venues of this size if he ever hits the road again with Krauss.
The Blake Theatre, Monmouth, Fri 17 Dec; Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Tue 21 Dec
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
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