REVIEW: Robert Plant's Sensational Space Shifters at Colston Hall - 9/10 by Robin Askew
AS HE tells us several times tonight, Robert Plant CBE first played the Colston Hall on June 21, 1969.
He didn't mention that he turned 65 two weeks ago. Happy birthday, Percy! That means the original Golden God is now officially a Bus Pass Rocker.
He's also cracked the problem that his many assiduous understudies, notably David Coverdale, find so challenging: how to grow old gracefully. Show me a fan who wouldn't prefer to see him back in the saddle with Led Zeppelin – upstaging the Stones as they did in the 70s by headlining next year's Glastonbury Festival, for example – and I'll show you a liar.
But having got over his curious mid-80s craving for critical approval, Plant now seems relaxed and comfortable ploughing his own furrow. He's also pulled off the neat trick of looking forwards and backwards simultaneously, reinventing his old material and revisiting the 60s West Coast psychedelia that inspired him while forging ahead into new territory, such as his Grammy-winning collaboration with Alison Krauss.
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For anyone who's counting, the Sensational Space Shifters are Plant's fourth band in 13 years. Justin Adams, John Baggott, Skin Tyson and Billy Fuller survive from the Strange Sensation line-up and are joined on the crowded stage by drummer Dave Smith and Gambian multi-instrumentalist Juldeh Camara.
Performing (with something of a smirk during the pointed Tin Pan Valley) in front of a giant psychedelic backdrop depicting his younger self, Plant is in good cheer and excellent voice, as thunderous opener Babe I'm Gonna Leave You amply demonstrates.
It's a crowd-pleasingly Zeppelin-heavy set with a handful of impressive covers, including Spoonful and Bukka White's Fixin' to Die. Some reworkings are so radical that it takes the audience a while to figure out what the hell the band are playing. A slowed-down, swampy Black Dog mutates into a bit of a cumbersome solo showcase for Camara, while Plant dodges that "big-legged woman" line. But Whole Lotta Love works brilliantly with a world music mid-section and a brief detour into Who Do You Love?, as popularised by Quicksilver Messenger Service.
The acoustic songs, including a lovely Going to California, are delivered without embellishment.
But the surprise of the evening is reverently played first encore Big Log (which I'm sad enough to know that he first performed at the Colston on December 4, 1983) – a rare and rather wonderful foray into AOR territory and, tellingly, the only song from the 80s dusted down tonight.
Few artists of his vintage are prepared to take such risks with their audience and material; fewer still get away with it. Long may he continue to experiment.