The people who braved the snow, the ice and the near-Arctic temperatures to pack the sold out Symphony Hall in Birmingham, paid top dollar to be sat in these seats. Robert Plant’s latest UK tour is filling every venue night after night. In London, you’d need to sell a body part to get to see him.
But money isn’t the focus when you are in the presence of an immortal Rock God. No, Siree Bob, or Siree Robert…
Mr Plant returned to the Symphony Hall where he was last strutting his stuff seven years ago, in October 2010. Tonight, to play tracks from his new album “Carry Fire”, joined by his latest musical compadres, the Sensational Space Shifters.
They are John Baggott on keyboards, moog, loops, percussion, drums, brass arrangement, t’bal, snare drum, slide guitar, piano, electric piano and bendir; Justin Adams on guitar, acoustic guitar, oud, E-bow quartet, percussion, snare drum and tambourine; Dave Smith on bendir, tambourine, djembe and drum kit; and Liam “Skin” Tyson on dobro, guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, and twelve-string.
The support act for tonight, folk star Seth Lakeman , delivered a strong solo set on violin, mandolin and vocals, to open the night’s proceedings. He also plays in the band for the superstar “Planty”. Seth played on three tracks on Robert’s new album, his eleventh solo album and his first in three years since “lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar”.
Plant was born in West Bromwich, and tonight after the first two songs were plagued by sound issues, horrible white noise coming out of the PA system; while they sorted the problem out, he talked to his fans about his childhood in the Black Country. Memories of Tividale and Tipton.
He talked about his grandfather playing in a brass band and how his Father would go to Tipton Park. Adding that today, it is where you will find syringes. He was joking, but I wonder if the council and park keepers there would find it funny!
He chatted about a quiz night in Tividale and one of the questions that came up; to name the largest island in Europe. He revealed the answer, but in case it comes up in your next pub quiz, we’ll leave it there to avoid a spoiler!!!
After they fixed the sound gremlins, Mr P grabbed a tamborine and the band kicked off again with “May Queen”, a track from the current album, with the video to that song shown behind them.
This is a top of the line band. As were his Band Of Joy, when he was here last. That line-up was: Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott, Patty Griffin, Byron House and Marco Giovino.
The show in 2010 was part of a short UK tour, to promote his tenth solo album, “Band Of Joy”, recorded in Tennessee. It was his first album since the Grammy Award-winning “Raising Sand”, with Alison Krauss in 2007.
Back then, he was praised for the quality of his voice. Tonight, at the age of 69-years-old, Robert’s vocals were fabulous, and his trademark rock stylings were scattered among his phrasing throughout the night, to please his loyal fans who have been ‘Team Planty’ for decades. Many West Midlands’ musicians and artists in tonight to see their hero.
His trousers might be a tad looser nowadays compared to the Led Zep days, but that voice is still THAT voice. For a bloke who is knocking on the door of 70, he looks pretty fit and healthy; long hair in a scrunched up bun type style tonight.
Did you know, he actually plays five-a-side football every week on an outdoor pitch, when he is at home in the UK? Then he goes down the local pub with the lads for a post match ‘debrief!’ That is absolutely true.
Led Zep fans were treated to a few songs from their back catalogue, which included the gentle ballad “That’s The Way”, from their third album, Led Zeppelin III, released in 1970. One of the most gentle and laid back tracks Led Zep ever cut. Nice fit for this band and this set.
Another song also included on that 1970 Led Zep album, was “The Gallow’s Pole”, which was a traditional folk song dating back Centuries, but probably the first version recorded was by the US blues legend Lead Belly, aka Huddie Ledbetter in 1939, when he called it “The Gallis Pole”.
Jimmy Page cooked up a new arrangement of the song, from a version by Fred Gerlach, when Page and Plant adjourned to a cottage in Wales for a break and to write new songs.
Tonight, before “Gallows Pole”, Robert recalled his delight at being in the audience to see visiting American artists at the famed Whiskey-A-Go-Go club in Birmingham in the 60s.
Robert and the band deservedly won a standing ovation at the end of their set, and they delivered a sparkling triple encore with “What Is and What Should Never Be”, “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” and a superb version of the timeless Top of the Pops theme tune; sorry, I mean the classic Zeppelin track, “Whole Lotta Love”, (Mixed with a burst of The Doors’ “Break On Through”).
The all-seated venue didn’t so much rattle and shake to this raunchy rock track, as it would have done back in the day with Mr P and Mr P and the rest of the Zepp boys, blasting out.
No stacks of amplifiers all turned up to 11, acres of PA speakers and racks of lights and OTT pyrotechnics tonight. Lots of low lighting; plenty of purple, red and blue flooding the stage. The volume wouldn’t have caused any headaches at all. A much more serene and peaceful ambience than the crazy rock and roll days of the 1970s.
But tonight, with the mostly “mature” audience on its feet to a man and a woman for the final song, the venue was more purring with the good vibrations conjured up by this veteran rock legend, who has re-invented himself as a folk and roots King.
Pretty apt that this ‘King’ was in the venue opened by the Queen in June 1991, three months after it opened its doors for shows and concerts. The place is acclaimed for its world class acoustics, there would have been no better place to hear this band and this man do their thing.
Oh, and writ large on the backdrop was a large crown; so let there be no doubt; Rock Royalty was in the house tonight…
Some of the cavernous arenas that these legendary artists get to play these days, can often be far removed from comfortable, intimate and accommodating for the view and the sound quality. At £38 to £68 a ticket, tonight’s HQ was perfect and I am sure many would have paid double to be fairly up close and personal to this iconic geezer.
Once they had dealt with the sound problems in the first two songs; down to the external sound guys and gear – not in-house – the sound was perfect. A lovely touch too, to have incense sticks burning on stage to create a wonderful smell wafting into the auditorium.
As our chap with a camera said after the show: “Man, I’ve got the best job in the world. I get to shoot three songs and then sit and watch a Rock God in action. I’ve had a ******* blast tonight. He was ******* amazing!”
I think maybe 2,261 other people may agree with him; perhaps without the colourful language!!! It is the turn of US, Canadian and Australian audiences to get a whole lotta Robert Plant and his band in February and March next year, when they tour there.
Most important things to note from tonight though, are: 1. Have a good look at who you are kicking in the shins, the next time you play football. 2. Scour the faces of the pub quiz team; you never know who you are gonna spot!
Photos: Jason Sheldon
Words: Simon Redley