10 years ago rock fans had the opportunity to buy two tickets to see a Led Zep reunion in London. Suffice to say, it was by lottery and the day the website opened, it crashed. No. I didn’t get to see them, but watching said gig on blu-ray playing on a large screen telly with the speakers up was just superb. Now, imagine if one was there…

Fast forward to the present day, I noted that Robert Plant was playing my town. Plant’s 69 years old now, and his latest album, Carry Fire[1], was filled with a more laid back Plant (think That’s The Way, not Black Dog). I have to admit, my only other Plant album was the Grammy-winning collab with Alison Krauss. I managed to snag a good seat in the stalls on the day the tix went on sale. Oh, I wasn’t under any illusion that he’d be playing lots of Led Zep. Just that, this is the singer for Led Zep and I’d like to have seen him live once.

The demographics of the people in the three fast-moving queues that chilly December evening were pretty expected. Only a few young ‘uns can be seen, like yours trul… never mind. Prior to the gig, I listened to Carry Fire a couple of times. And no, I didn’t go on setlist.com. Yet, anyway. I am aware that in his post-Led Zep days, Plant’s musical direction had been somewhat eclectic – from reworkings of old blues numbers to collaborating with the likes of Tinariwen. The evening’s opener was Seth Lakeman, an renowned award-winning English folk singer whom I thought was utterly fantastic. Lakeman is also contributed to the music on Carry Fire and looks like he was gonna be playing with Plant later on. I had never though of English folk music sounding like it has a tinge of Celticness to it, which is no surprise geographically I guess. Lakeman has a great voice, and performed solo (and played violin and the acoustic guitar) as he was without his band that night.

Plant’s performance was to start at quarter to nine, and backed by the Spectacular Space Shifters, a band put together to back Plant for the past couple of years on the record as well as live performances. It wasn’t until much later I found out that one of the guitarists, Liam “Skin” Tyson, is the guitarist for Cast, a Liverpool band that was pretty much part of my background music in my med school days. The band started coming onstage at exactly quarter to, and from the mane on his head I thought I saw Plant, until the stage lights came on. Plant had his mane tied up and he was almost unrecognisable! Plant and the band kicked the night off with New World… from Carry Fire. I’ve to say that not knowing Plant’s post-Led Zep material didn’t matter much. He was gonna play his old Delta blues covers with a new twist may it be in a mishmash of worldbeat and a touch of electronica (no likey, but hey), but not until he had a word or two about the piece which for me was very interesting. A lot of Led Zep’s material were similarly reworkings of other people’s songs, so it was nice to learn a few things or two. The May Queen from the new album was an absolute delight although I wonder if Plant was referring to the same May Queen in that ever-so famous song that is banned throughout guitar stores the world over. Of the songs in the set, I quite liked Rainbow which had half the band on percussions giving the song a North African-esque vibe to it.

Then came the first Led Zep song – That’s The Way, which reminded me of the film Almost Famous. Finally, listening to a Led Zep song live. The best thing of all, as it was played acoustically as the original, it didn’t matter who was in the band. As for reworkings, a few were still Led Zep staples like Gallows Pole (Leadbelly, among others) and Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You (Joan Baez). Another interesting Delta blues rework was Fixin’ To Die which was first done by Bukka White after his incarceration in prison. Plant’s introduction to the song was more of the song being related to the Parchment Farm prison in Mississippi although he didn’t specifically mentioned White’s name. Interestingly, Led Zep played this in their Whole Lotta Love medley on the BBC Sessions recording.

Misty Mountain Hop marked the end of the main set – a version which for me was a tad unrecognisable until I heard the words being sung. Plant and the Space Shifters came back for an encore with another Led Zep tune, What Is and What Should Never Be. Once again to show how he likes to rework songs, the next tune called Bluebirds Over The Mountain was an old rockabilly number by Ersel Hickey that Plant used to listen to as a kid way before he was in Led Zep. This cover is in Carry Fire and they had to make do without having Chrissie Hynde singing with Plant as it is on the recording, although I noted that Hynde joined the band onstage at their recent London show. And as a finishing touch – Whole Lotta Love. What else could you ask for?

This is not Led Zeppelin, but I think Plant could hold his own and prolly would explain why he isn’t too keen to go on a nostalgic act like many of the reformed bands you get to see these days touring the world. If he comes by your neck of the woods, check Plant and his band out live.

Sheffield City Hall set 6.12.2017: New World… / Turn It Up / The May Queen / Rainbow / That’s The Way / All the King’s Horses / House of Cards / Gallows Pole / Carry Fire / Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You / Little Maggie / Funny in My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixin’ to Die) / Misty Mountain Hop // What Is And What Should Never Be / Bluebirds Over the Mountain / Whole Lotta Love

[1]Had to buy it unless I wanted to go eh? every single song at the show.

The second photo of the band was a stock photo from an unnamed show. For more photos – check out this site which has shots from the show in Manchester. Pretty much what I saw in Sheffield!