Ah yes, the Palais Theatre in St Kilda. What more appropriate and august chamber, firmly established in the annals of rock history and live performance, could be more suited to present such a rock icon as Mr Robert Plant and his assembly of sensational accompanying musicians.
No prizes for guessing the demographic represented, but those assembled were bursting with excitement to see the voice of Led Zepplin and creator of more contemporary musical fare. As one entered the venue and enjoyed the opening offerings from the splendid, gifted and vastly entertaining Seth Lakeman, there presented sufficing time to ponder the reality of what we were so close to experiencing. And perhaps this is another string of talent to the bow of Robert Plant, in selecting an opening act who is so very skillful and impressive, yet somehow seems to help build the excitement for the evening’s main event. Please pardon the ‘string’ pun there Seth, but with such an array of stringed instruments aloft on stage and at your command, one can be forgiven methinks. With such splendid storytelling and musical skill, Seth thrilled the audience most when we joined in with glasses raised high and cries of “raise your glass to the one you love” but for me the highlight was the title track from his 2004 album Kitty Jay. You really do become lost in the Seth Lakeman show when enjoying such well written aural delights and mouth agape in awe of his amazing skill with all that is stringed, but welcome news arrived upon finale that he would be back a little later. Those already familiar with the show know that Seth is back to join the Sensational Space Shifters throughout the evening.
And so to the main event and as the crowd settles in an odd silence, the reality hits that we are about to receive a visit from a genuine rock deity. As the Sensational Space Shifters introduce the opener before a most apt backing banner bearing of a crown of feathers (the modern standard illustrated within the covers of Carry Fire) the legend appears. Now reality nestles firmly at the fore as Mr Robert Plant steps onto the stage. The privilege one feels to be able to enjoy this rock legend, fifty years on from Led Zeppelin beginnings and during his 70th year among we, the mere mortals is scarcely describable. In think the word humbling will suffice. My own bewildered glee is akin to the youthful exuberance of Roberts’s musical beginnings, behind a curtain and before French windows, mimicking Elvis at the age of ten. A kid before Christmas, running rampant in a moment of timeless wonder as Robert brings lips to mic and the unmistakable voice brings together daydream with reality. It’s really him. The voice that has provided the influence and inspiration to literally, generations of performers and carries such a vast chunk of rock history, brings the feelings of genuine honor and privilege. From the first notes, comes the thrill that our musical master still ‘feels’ every note to his very soul as he accompanies every sound with his special array of stage movements, as though squeezing the musical magnificence to the fore.
Before long, time returns to its usual pace and I realise that the Sensational Space Shifters are live and in person also. An assembly of true musical masters, each celebrated in their own right, but here together put on such a phenomenally magnificent show, but what else could tease the spotlight away from Robert but stellar accompaniment. From the magical rhythm infusion provided by Billy Fuller on both double and shoulder slung bass, misery stick, to the outrageously talented and musically magnificent Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson on acoustic and electric guitar along with a seriously sensational helping of electric banjo, this ensemble is just built to thrill. John Baggott at the keys keeps the audience well and truly engaged in providing the prompts for clapping and knee slipping, but performing in such an entertaining manner. Justin Adams is an astonishing guitarist and played literally until his fingers bled, presumably. Wrong Adams for that track I know, but after leaving each solo and strumming sensation with vigorous shaking of the hands, this guy gives more to his performance than we can reasonably expect. Absolutely amazing work resulting in some of the most astonishing and animated guitar performances one could ever wish to experience.
David Smith on drums was afforded more than a little ribbing for feeling unwell and apparently coming very close to skipping the gig, but surely all in jest as an ‘in’ joke because his performance was brilliant.
But this entire performance was nothing short of legendary for the observer, but mere daily business for such a skilful band. All the musical delights bound together with offerings and oddities from our beloved host, from “I made some new friends today, they make as much sense as everybody else…they’re called penguins” to a brief history of the introduction of the sukey jumps of the south bringing Gallows Pole a most warm reception, the performance brought the man and his personality to us, as much as his music. And that music. Oh that music, from as recent a release as The May Queen to All The Kings Horses to songs ‘born on the side of a mountain in 1971, by the side of a waterfall, it was about 11 o’clock in the morning if I can remember rightly’, Misty Mountain Hop to That’s The Way, the expansive catalog was explored exquisitely. Even after a fitting description of his collaborations with Alison Kraus, Robert introduced Please Read The Letter which included a magnificent string accompaniment from Seth Lakeman back on stage. And a magnificent rendition of Fixin’ To Die, originally by Mr Bukka White was a chance for Justin Adams to showcase his particular skills. Just unbelievable.
A goodnight Melbourne was bought by no one, but a standing ovation was offered none the less. Not the first of the evening either. But the gang were back with no particular delay and were met with howls of celebration, because all knew it was not over until we had enjoyed some of the New World and the finale that would see all leave satisfied and fully spent, Whole Lotta Love. And so the finale was brought about and all were happy. As the crowds departed, I could see that I was not alone in wishing to share such a wealth of rock heritage with my children and mouths were agape in suitable reverence to all that had been witnessed. Thank you Robert and thank you all for bringing such a memorable highlight to the lives of so many. And you thought we were “just sitting there while you lot fuck about…”. Really? Wow. Thank you.
Review Contributed by Casper