Robert Plant is a divisive figure in rock. He’s both a friend and enemy of the blues (examples here: [http://www.musictimes.com/articles/6250/20140520/7-songs-other-than-stairway-to-heaven-that-led-zeppelin-stole.htm]), the consistent roadblock for multiple Led Zeppelin reunion attempts (which some thank him for), and, of course, being the mold for future blonde front men that later pervaded the 80s hair rock scene (David Coverdale, anyone?).
However, there’s a part of Plant that is admirable. After his post-Zeppelin career, he made it a point to not sound like Zeppelin. So, while his earlier solo albums may sound dated now (some are more drenched in 80s synth than others…just take a listen to “Too Loud”) he was genuinely committed to going his own route.
His goal to stray from Zeppelin worked…for a bit, at least. But, sometimes (as many of us eventually realize) you just have to make peace with your past. Ultimately, this led to a couple of tours with his former bandmate Jimmy Page. Gradually, he began to add Zeppelin material this his live sets. Still, he kept forging ahead with a critically successful album Mighty Rearranger, and even won a Grammy for his duet album (Raising Sand) with bluegrass maven Alison Krauss. All of this exposition is really just means to document the dynamic change Plant has possessed, while still accepting his past.
As Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters sauntered on stage with the backdrop of a lit Chicago skyline reflecting against the choppy waves of Lake Michigan, the opening keyboard riffs of “Trampled Underfoot” lifted the crowd in unison. And so did the rest of the Zeppelin hits (“Black Dog”, “The Rain Song”, “The Lemon Song”, “Rock and Roll”, “Dazed and Confused”, and snippets of “Whole Lotta Love”, and “In My Time of Dying”). Songs he once didn’t care to play have once again found a home on stage. The difference now is that these songs no longer need the gravity that they once possessed. Many are reshaped but still tailored for the objective to have fun.
Homages to the blues also stretched across his set. It was to no surprise that he mentioned once again the impact Chicago and blues had on him and so many other musicians in England. Chess and Delmark Records were once the epitome of blues on Maxwell Street many decades ago. So, hearing Plant’s renditions of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”, or even Bukka White’s “Fixing’ to Die” is part of the narrative in Robert Plant’s musical identity.
Songs off his new and critically acclaimed album Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, still find his love of mending world-beat and folk-rock into something that sounds so much like…Robert Plant now. Ultimately, the fans were more than happy to hear the roar and ceaseless Zeppelin hits, but even in his originality, a sense of joy was certainly present.
This one is for you, Horacio.