Wednesday, February 21, 2018

House of the Holy: Robert Plant Delivers Another Sensational Space Shifting Show at the Riv -- Chicago Concert Review

Photos by Seth Arkin
Concert Review

Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters
w/ opening act Seth Lakeman
Riviera Theatre, Chicago
February 20, 2018

Can lightning strike twice in the same place?

That was the question--and hope--on my mind as I ventured to the 2,500-seat Riviera Theatre on a rainy Tuesday night to see a rock god whose legacy is far larger than the venue he filled.

For in October 2014, Robert Plant--the iconic lead singer of Led Zeppelin, who in recent years has repeatedly eschewed clamoring for a reunion tour by the legendary band--had played the Riv with a group of dexterous musicians dubbed the Sensational Space Shifters.

That show--far from the first time I'd seen Plant--stands out among the 700+ concerts I've attended as not just one of my favorites, but palpably "religious," as hearing classics from the Zeppelin canon repeatedly gave me goosebumps.

Tuesday night, if the songs didn't all remain quite the same, the basic outline did: a mix of Plant's fine, rootsy, recent material--now culled from 2017's Carry Fire album as well as 2014's lullaby and... the Ceaseless Roar--with a handful of somewhat reconfigured Zeppelin tracks, plus some potpourri (other solo Plant songs, tunes that inspired him, etc.).

And at 69, Plant remains in good voice, hair and spirits, seemingly quite content to be creating new music that beguiles him while playing relatively intimate venues, rather than reaping untold millions with a far-more pressurized Led Zeppelin reprise.

After a nice solo opening set by the well-named Seth Lakeman, who also plays violin within the Space Shifters, the British legend took the stage for what would be a roughly 100-minute performance, a bit longer than in 2014 or at a 2015 show at the Northerly Island pavilion.

Unlike 2014, when two great Zep cuts--"No Quarter," "Ramble On"--brought instant chills and convusions as songs #1 & 3 on the setlist, this time 'round Plant opened with four recent solo songs ("New World...," "Turn It Up," "May Queen," "Rainbow") before a fine take on the low-key "That's the Way" from Led Zeppelin III.

Of 15 songs played Tuesday, five hearkened back to Zeppelin, but only two--"Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" and "Whole Lotta Love," carryovers from 2014--sent spiritual spasms down my spine.

That I still found it to be a @@@@1/2 show (out of 5) speaks to the quality of Plant's current music, band and performance.

After the first four songs mentioned above and "That's the Way," set the tone, also fitting in nicely were 2005's "All the King's Horses" and "Please Read the Letter," a song Plant originally recorded with Zep mate Jimmy Page for their 1998 collaboration, Walking Into Clarksdale, but re-did--as referenced onstage--with Alison Krauss for the Grammy-winning Raising Sand album. (Notably, Plant never mentioned Page or Led Zeppelin on Tuesday.)

Though enjoyable, the Space Shifters' takes on Zeppelin's "Gallows Pole" (actually an old Leadbelly song) and "Misty Mountain Hop" reworked the famed versions enough not to feel quite as monumental.

The band--most notably guitarists Skin Adams and Justin Adams--also shined on the late bluesman Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die" (revved up to feel Zeppelinesque) and Plant's early solo hit, "In the Mood."

The Chicago setlist echoed what has been played at other tour stops, and while well-curated at face value, given the heavy rain all-day Tuesday I thought Plant should've slyly pulled out "When the Levee Breaks," with its "I'm going to Chicago" line.

I know it may sound a bit askew to admire Plant for not cravenly mining his past yet rueing that there wasn't enough Zeppelin featured in a concert 38 years after that band's demise.

So I want to be clear: This was an excellent show. Plant and Co. sounded great, and any evening spent alongside three dear friends watching an all-time legend wail away counts as a special one.

Especially as "Whole Lotta Love" sent us off into the night, where it continued to rain.

But while there was a good deal of thunder to savor within the erstwhile Riviera--along with the pleasure of seeing Robert Plant happily chart his own course--bolts of truly electrifying lightning just didn't strike quite like they had before.

In the same place.

1 comment:

Ken said...

I believe the phrase "instant chills and convusions" was intended to be "instant chills and convulsions".

Well balanced review of Robert Plant's performance.