Bluesfest Day Two and how Robert Plant Brought the House Down.
Legend by nature negates fact. The idea that anything could have existed after sudden impact of Led Zepplin’s demise is difficult one to take. But bust the myth. Robert Plant self-destructed even before the band did.
The bombast of his voice tore itself to tatters before Physical Graffiti. Surgery changed his body, it delivered a different man. Then a car crash derailed him before Presence. Amidst this turmoil he kept changing. Bonham exited choked on rock ‘n’ roll excess but far before then was the heartbroken father, mourning the death of his five-year-old son Karac as he wandered through the words of ‘All My Love’.
Expectation of glories past smothers, but the person endured. Plant kept living, looking back on all his records he’s made plenty of odd diversions. Dust off a copy of Now and Zen. It isn’t until recent times, post-Zeppelin reunion, that he’s really fallen back on foot. But Zeppelin mystique lingers heavy, even in death.
Most fans deny life after Zeppelin. But all that’s followed has brings a complete human into the present. And it’s right at this moment that Robert Plant takes to the stage.
Curls still weave around his face, he’s still that dynamic frontman. 2017’s Carry Fire reaffirmed Plant as elder statesmen. The Zeppelin mystique of an artist that was and more. The golden Adonis grown old, voice heavy the authority. Wiser but equally primed to leap into moments of raw and visceral power.
The crowd has been saving its energy for him. Thousands it seems. They want to give it our all while harbouring that all-too-battered expectation that he’ll be giving it right back.
It’s loud. Crowds shriek, bodies tumble. It’s packed out. There’s a lot of chanting, shrieking too. And then some.
The band cuts into ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’. Plant hits all the notes. But let’s make this clear, the set is heavy with sound of Carry Fire. Their is a whole lotta Zep (including that one yes, bit hold it we’ll get to that later). But he’s touring the new album. Diehards might not want to hear it, but artists tend to improve with age. To say otherwise is fallacy. But they tend to pursue their own interests rather than catering to the masses.
Fire is in the spirit of Zeppelin. It has the mysticism of II and the haunted folk of III. Listen no further than May Queen. For any doubters, hear these songs live. They all fall into place. A delayed reaction, but powerful.
Plant is magnetic but it’s not the hit-you-ever-head kind of energy. The passion burns but it’s warmer, less conquering. ‘That’s The Way’ rings out and a man opens up his arms, a baby girl falls asleep in her father’s arms. Plant flickers piercing blue eyes.
Then he talks Nashville, Raising Sand and Alison Krauss. He sings ‘Please Read The Letter’ it’s a mixed response. Getting inside of the artists head you can appreciate the song, but ‘Gallows Poll’! It follows, and it pulses with energy.
It’s one hard rockin’ jig. But ‘Carry Fire’ steals the set. It hits with a tremendous drive, difficult to set to words. Eastern riffs ring out as Plant circles like a phantom. His passion sears, ensnaring in hypnotic swirl. If there was no expectation this song would lay a listener low just as ‘Kashmir’ would. Big and crashing love, lethal and roiling a sea of emotion.
Then a traditional, ‘Little Maggie’. It’s followed by ‘Fixin’ to Die’ delivered with a sense of aged hurt. It reminds of Bowie on Blackstar. A grain of voice which comes only with age and life.
And in that single moment of ache, it comes clear. Plant crushes the myth and legend; music moving with the times. There’s something more to music than consumer packaged legend, something honest and real. Something good. Rob’s giving it out tonight, let it happen.
‘Babe I’m Going to Leave You’ washes these thoughts away. It brings the house down. Plant is raging, he’s trying hard not to let the band overtake him. Visibly sweating.
And then a snatch of ‘Bring It On Home’ before ‘Whole Lotta Love’. Those holy words! It’s crashing around ‘Santianna’ falling all about the tent. Crash. The crowd’s ecstatic.
When was the last time you left a gig feeling electrified? Ten-foot-high, not worried about some stupid thing about life. Unworried about the world. Shedding not a thought. The night’s exhaustion lifts, adrenaline numbed. These are the moments you chase.
But y’know other things happened at Bluesfest’s too. Sift backwards in time a few hours and into view come six policemen. Upstanding officers of the law, arm to arm and trying hard to paint a stern impression. Really, they’re watching Canned Heat. Eyes square fixed, internally retching over an inability to bust into and groove. Six among a swell of thousands.
Canned Heat. They’re still going. These LA rockers sound great, it’s catching a glimpse that’s a challenge. Electrified blues roll thick and fast. ‘I’m Her Man’ sends a seismic jolt throughout the human press that swims before them.
“Alright how y’all doin,’’ Dale Spalding chimes. These ‘60s luminaries stretch and contort blues form, accentuating its showy chops. Spirits are sailing high.
Something luring catches the ear. It’s Youssou N’Dour. He’s Senegalese, HUGE in Africa. Crisscrossing the stage, he’s visually resplendent. A blur of colour as clean and sparkling guitar lines brings on a warm gauze of euphoria. A nice discovery.
Across the way, Con Brio’s smashing out an extended jam. Ziek McCarter leads his band closing it out the set in a flurry of percussive funk. And then there’s the vamps, they’re hitting straight into the chest. Dance music bopping right up until the last second. A round of applause, please.
Review by Riley Fitzgerald
Photography by Alix Mackenzie