Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters at Red Rocks, with the Black Angels, 7/10/13
Robert Plant on stage at Red Rocks Amphitheatre last night.
ROBERT PLANT @ RED ROCKS | 7/10/13 When you're Robert Plant, you can get just about anyone to play with you. That's why you see folks like Billy Fuller of Massive Attack, along with psychedelic rock impresario Justin Adams, ridiculously talented guitarist Liam "Skin" Tyson, talking drum/kolongo/riti master Juldeh Camara, keyboardist John Baggott and percussionist Dave Smith taking the stage with him. Playing some of Plants' greatest hits (solo and with Led Zeppelin), along with old spirituals and classic blues songs, Plant and his ace companions made the eclectic combination hang together seamlessly last night at Red Rocks.
See also: - Robert Plant on his new project and how he likes the way his voice sounds now - Review: Robert Plant and Band of Joy at the Fillmore, 4/27/11 - Review: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss at Red Rocks, 6/23/08
While Plant's meandered away from his edgier rock roots in recent years, releasing bluegrass albums and branching out into folkier Americana, which still allows him to showcase his always-golden voice in a new way, at Red Rocks on this evening, he laid out more of a classic rock vibe. The sound was very much influenced by the psychedelic blues that Led Zeppelin helped popularize.
The band opened with a soft Spanish-style acoustic guitar that stroked the opening chords of Zeppelin's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You." The gentle guitar complemented Plant's clear, wailing voice, and then the drums and bass came in, framing the song as more of a hard-rock anthem before melting back into the crooning guitar-and-Plant combo. This motif was repeated through song after song as the band flawlessly increased the energy and the noise level, then backed off at the appropriate moment, allowing just one or two instruments to shine through.
Next came "In the Mood," kicking off with soft, complex drums and rolling guitar, and "Tin Pan Valley," offering up a contrast between a deep drumline and delicate piano melody. Again, the band moved from slow and eerie to fast and furious before finishing with a flourish so Plant could say hello to the crowd and welcome the audience "to another night of soft rock...it's such a groove to be anywhere in these hills."
And the groove was back on as the band kicked into a bluesy rendition of Charley Patton's "Spoonful," featuring syncopated drums and a simple five-note riff that set the tone before another guitar dropped in a wailing, distorted melody and Camara took the spotlight with the riti, a one-stringed African violin that sang sweetly amidst the sound. "Another Tribe" followed, and this time, the lead instrument was an earnest acoustic guitar that was supplemented with sweeping strings. The stripped-down rock blossomed into a soundscape that once again highlighted the dance between sparse and lush that the Sensational Space Shifters are so apt at creating.
A bass-register noise reminiscent of a throat singer segued into "Going to California," which Plant and the band played rather traditionally (but beautifully), giving the piece a tender, classic treatment that allowed Plant's voice to carry the song while playing with it. The set then took a slightly darker, gypsy-rock turn with "The Enchanter," hypnotic percussion and powerful guitar tones melting into one another.
Plant and his Shifters continued to alternate between Zeppelin classics, blues covers and songs that he created later on during his long and lucrative solo career. "Four Sticks" was given an edgy, groovy treatment, and Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die Blues" kept the rootsy rock at the core of all blues, accented with a clipped, precise guitar. "What Is and What Never Should Be" was another opportunity for Plant to prove that although he might have aged, his voice is still as captivating as it ever was.
Things got playful with "Whole Lotta Love," as each musician on his instrument took a turn to showcase his skills, jamming into a short sample of "Who Do You Love" before taking the melodies back into "Whole Lotta Love." Plant and the band took their first bows and retreated offstage for a few minutes before the encore. There were only two songs offered up for the encore, but they were the perfect selections: First it was "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down," an old spiritual arranged by Plant on his Band of Joy album; this rendition was haunting and smooth with a slippery psychedelic undertone.
Plant then closed with what he described as a "sweet, gentle delicate English refrain," "Rock and Roll," and the Sensational Space Shifters threw themselves into the task of covering such a legendary song with gusto, shredding on guitar and supporting Plant's signature raspy wail as he belted out the final tune of the evening. Granted, Plant sang in a lower register than he used to sing, perhaps, but he offered no less energy. When the rabid applause died down, the band bowed as a group and melted backstage as the house lights came up.
Before Plant and his gang took the stage, the Black Angels warmed things up for the crew. This psychedelic rock band sounds like something out of San Francisco in the early '60s -- a bit like Jefferson Airplane minus Grace Slick (but plus a frontman whose vibrato sounds a lot like her trademark warble).
The Austin act's slow, sexy basslines, sharp drums and shredding guitar carried the audience through "the Sniper" and then switched to a questioning, slightly dissonant tone for "Yellow Elevator #2." One of the outfit's most rousing efforts, "I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)," was appropriately tripped-out, with lyrics connoting a strong dose of some mind-bending substance while guitars sighed and drums tapped in the background.
The group exemplifies both the beach-rock sound of the early psychedelic movement and the deeper, more out-there tunes that came later; the band's frontman seemed to emulate Plant as he crooned the lyrics to "Bad Vibrations," the Black Angels' last song. The act kept the crowd engaged and moving during its hour or so on stage. The focus was mostly on the music without a lot of extraneous talk -- except noting how gorgeous the venue is.
Personal Bias: I listen to primarily electronic music, but when it comes to some classic rock, I just can't say no to Plant -- he's a rock god.
Random Detail: Plant did his best to engage the crowd in his lyrics, but several times when he held the mic out for the audience to carry the tune, we fell flat of his expectations. Sorry, Robert!
By the Way: So many girls were wearing flowers in their hair that I had to wonder if "Going to California" has become a form of fashion advice.
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