Freak flag still flying, Robert Plant, late of Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin reunions, brought his enduring rock glamour and still-mighty god-hammer to the Greek Theater in an awesome display of control and abandon whose only fault was that it ended too soon. Plant still roams the territory marked out by Zeppelin, that unsuspected country bordered by the Mississippi Delta, the Middle East and Middle Earth, a place of lemon-squeezing heat, filigreed Orientalism and fairy-tale wonder; such is the stuff of his latest album, Dreamland, mostly a collection of covers, with an emphasis on old-school West Coast psychedelia. (The live set also included a cover of Love's "A House Is Not a Motel.")
Onstage between songs, Plant recalled with affection the golden age of the Sunset Strip, yet, unlike so many musicians of a certain age, he doesn't confuse his love of the days of his youth with the notion that the music was better then. Nor like most does he aspire to tastefulness -- or he's outgrown such aspirations -- preferring the grease, the grind, the garage. As performed by a band whose combined CV includes stints with Portishead, Sinèad O'Connor, Roni Size and Massive Attack, Plant's music felt huge and tidal and utterly modern in the sense that it belonged to no time but its own, and while often beautiful and sometimes delicate (Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" fought gamely against the crowd), it was never polite. Notwithstanding that nearly half the set mined the Zeppelin catalog, from an angular "Four Sticks" to a cheeky "Hey Hey What Can I Do" to a massive "Whole Lotta Love," there was no pandering to nostalgia, only working out new variations on old themes.
While Plant doesn't have all the high notes he used to, he used to have more than he needed, and remains a singer of fantastic power, recovered flexibility and restless intelligence, redeeming in the rendering his sometimes hippie-Hobbity lyrics and frequent use of the sobriquets "mama" and "little girl" (meaning the same thing, oddly enough). Roadies bring him hot tea now, and he does not bare his chest as in days of old when magic filled the air, but he put his body into his act, twirling and dipping and clapping hands. And there was magic enough.
© Robert Lloyd 2002 and 2011