By Jake Ebdale
Artist: Robert Plant - support from Blind Boys Of Alabama
Date / Venue: Thursday April 11th, Vector Arena, Auckland
On Thursday night, Robert Plant knew he had complete control of Auckland's Vector Arena. You could see it on the Golden God's face. But in the opening number, the country stomp of Led Zeppelin III's 'Friends', a perceptive, near bashful smile emerged from Plant's weathered exterior. In the realms of rock, Plant is as legendary as legends come - and he knows his fans think this highly of him. Yet seeing such a tangible, personable expression on the face of Zeppelin's mythical front-man, his voice so ingrained in my musical DNA, was mind blowing. For just over 90 minutes, I was in the same room as this man and his band. I couldn't contain myself. I even teared up.
That sly smile of his was everything I needed to see. In those kinks, those contours, those lines of his grand old face, is over 40 years of rock and roll experience, of stories, of history. The excitement was felt throughout the room, and people knew they were witnessing something special. It never dawned on me whether or not he should "play Kashmir!!!" or "fuckin' Stairway!!" (a rude, drunken Kiwi punter trait which annoys me- Zep was done in 1980). This was his show. And to top it off, it was one of the best shows I've ever seen.
Along with cuts from Zeppelin II, III and IV, which ranged from liquefied blues versions to faithful renditions, he played a selection of solo work and covers that showcased his deep interest in African music, for music as worldly expression. Buoyed by a stellar backing band including Massive Attack's John Baggott and African multi-instrumentalist Juldeh Camara, Plant created his own sound, with flourishes of the hard rock he once pioneered. For some people it may not have worked, but for me, it exceeded expectations.
A cover of Howlin' Wolf's ‘Spoonful' was the evening's heaviest moment, completely sucked into Plant's future electronic-blues vortex. ‘Going to California' was a special number. It was a poignant, beautiful moment in time shared by my father and me. It was the one that made me well up - those Zeppelin songs still possess a great otherworldly power.
‘Ramble On' was great on two levels - firstly, a faithful nod to his past, played with vigor by his band members (especially guitarist Justin Adams) and sung powerfully by Plant; secondly, hundreds of fans jumping out of their seats and rushing the security guards that were blocking the front barricade. After the song, Mr. Plant condemned our "draconian bouncers" for denying the fans a chance to get closer and show appreciation. "I'm 65 for god's sake, I'm not gonna start a fucking riot." He's a charismatic, charming showman who hasn't let success get in the way of his journeyman spirit. The ending sprint of ‘What is and What Should Never Be' and ‘Rock and Roll' sent the mostly older crowd into frenzy. It was a palpable, special show.
Robert Plant's name in the wider rock world will be forever attached to Zeppelin. But Thursday's show was an amazing expression of musicality, executed with such passion. He looks to the future, and has played his solo career with complete integrity. This was him proving that there's life after fronting the biggest band in the world. Now he plays in one of the best.