When I interviewed Robert Plant back in 1993, the first thing he said on the phone from New York City was that he was “pissed off” that Black Sabbath wasn’t getting back together. He was joking, though. It was more a comment on how frustrated he was back then by all the requests for Led Zeppelin’s surviving members to reunite.
Of course, Sabbath did eventually reform–to the sound of many dollars made, and complaints about drummer Bill Ward’s absence–whereas Zeppelin, other than for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert in 2007, has avoided it, mainly at Plant’s insistence.
But that doesn’t mean the aging rocker can’t drop the odd Zep tune into the setlist for his current band, the Sensational Space Shifters, and make the world a happy place again.
Last night at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre–where Plant was performing as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival–it took a few of the SSS’s rootsy, worldbeat-flavoured tunes before keyboardist John Baggott unleashed the familiar strains of that pretty ditty from Houses of the Holy, “The Rain Song”.
It was suddenly the springtime of everybody’s lovin’ again.
After a few more non-Zeppelin numbers–including “Please Read the Letter”, which Plant wrote with Jimmy Page for their 1998 album Walking into Clarksdale, before recording a Grammy-winning version with bluegrass artist Alison Kraus ten years later–it was time for the traditional blues gem “Gallows Pole”, first popularized in the ’30s by Leadbelly before Zep recorded it on 1970’s Led Zeppelin III. Sensational Space Shifters fiddle ace Seth Lakeman really went to town on that number, giving it a serious backwoods-bluegrass vibe. Shitkicker heaven, you could say.
After a hypnotic version of the Middle Eastern-flavoured title track from last year’s Sensational Space Shifter’s album, Carry Fire, Gibbons-bearded guitarman Liam “Skin” Tyson cranked out the acoustic-guitar intro to LZ’s famous rendition of Joan Baez’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”, from its 1969 debut.
The Zeppelin-y goodness continued into the encore, with the bluesy dirge of “When the Levee Breaks”–the 1929 Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie tune from Led Zeppelin IV–before a medley that included Willie Dixon’s “Bring it On Home” (Led Zeppelin II) segued into that most iconic of riff-driven Zep tunes, “Whole Lotta Love”. The supremely talented guitar team of Tyson and Justin Adams made sure to suit up with Les Pauls to bring the Page-like damage to the ecstatic Queen E. crowd.
Not a bad night for Zeppelin freaks, all in all.