Arts

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. Photo: Parker Townes/Fulcrum

Plant might be making world music now, but he’s still a rock god

CityFolk closed out its 25th installment with rock legend Robert Plant and his band the Sensational Space Shifters. Despite a weekend of incredible music, Plant was the obvious choice for a headliner as the show was nothing less than flawless.

With the field full for the show, Plant knew he had a captive audience, so when he chose to open his show with a clip of Greta Thunberg speaking at the COP24 conference in Poland, he knew everyone would be there watching. Plant didn’t make the content of his show political, but it was a powerful move projecting Thunberg’s speech across Lansdowne Park.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the audience hoping for a few Led Zeppelin songs, but I wasn’t expecting more than one token song, so when he opened with “What Is and What Should Never Be” from the band’s second album I was pleasantly surprised. Over the course of the night Plant would sing about a half-dozen Zeppelin songs. Some were faithful covers of the originals while others he put a twist on to align them with the type of music he’s creating now.

Plant’s new style of music is hard to pin down. The easiest descriptor is world music. For Zeppelin fans it’s a totally different type of music, but the seeds of Plant’s new output were there back in the Zeppelin days. Plant’s big single “Carry Fire,” from the album of the same name, is the logical conclusion to what he started exploring with “Kashmir.” It’s a heavily middle-eastern-influenced tune, with guitarist Justin Adams providing Arabic-style guitar work.

It’s not just African and Middle-Eastern style music though. At times Plant’s new band is absolutely bluegrass, bolstered by Lillie Mae Rische’s sawing fiddle and “Skin” Tyson’s banjo-guitar.

The backing musicians can’t be praised enough. Just like how every member of Led Zeppelin was a master of his instrument and given ample time to shine, the Sensational Space Shifters are gifted musicians and Plant gave them plenty of time to show off their skills. From Tyson’s extended classical guitar intro to Zeppelin staple to Adams’ extended rock-and-roll solos — with tricks just like Jimmy Page’s — to Rische’s old-time fiddling, the band were just as big stars as Plant.

But the band wasn’t covering up for any shortcoming from Plant. At 71, he didn’t falter once. The voice is a bit lower, the luscious mane a bit greyer, but Plant hasn’t changed much from the Zeppelin heydays. When he picked up the tambourine — and his tambourine skills should be noted — I felt a thrill at seeing a legend in his element. Even with his folksier vibe these days there’s still more than a glimmer of the rock god left in him.

Plant closed out the show with the British folk song “Gallows Pole” which he first recorded nearly 50 years ago on Led Zeppelin III. He came back for an encore with his 1983 hit “In the Mood” before ending with the Zeppelin classic “Ramble On.” Plant’s performance tonight proved that he has no problem with rambling on — the rock god of old is still there, alongside a committed folkie still making awesome music.