By Josh Adams (@jxshadams)
In the 1970s, no band were more hedonistic, heavy, and–dare I say–better than Led Zeppelin, and standing with his hands on his hips and his chest bared to crowds of tens of thousands at the front of the stage was their singer, Robert Plant. The story of Led Zeppelin is one of triumph and tragedy, and emerging from the group’s initial end in 1980 due to the passing of drumming powerhouse John Bonham, came a more-scathed-than-not Plant. After losing his voice, his friend, his son and nearly his own life in the span of five years, it’s a miracle he’s still making music and performing live to this date – a tenacity due in no small part to his diligence to test himself and explore new ideas previously unheard of in his solo discography. His latest effort, Carry Fire, garnered strong reviews and continued the creative renaissance that began, ironically enough, shortly after the one-off Zeppelin reunion concert a decade ago now. But how would seeing a living legend in the flesh stack up against the dizzying, staggering heights of his own legacy?
Thankfully, Plant’s risk-taking paid off. His refusal to shut up and play the hits, and instead manipulate and warp them into something entirely different, is well known, often leaving the suspense of what classics he would play on any given evening to fester in the minds of the audience before and during the concert, practically ensuring a rapturous response with any note that he and his unshakably professional band let out from the singer’s glory days. That’s The Way, Misty Mountain Hop, What Is And What Should Never Be… the canon, and the pleasant surprise of transformation with which he presented it, seemed endless. Gallows Pole, nobody’s favourite song from Led Zeppelin III, morphed into a country stomp that roused the Glasgow audience into hand-clapping fervour; Babe I’m Gonna Leave You sounded even more haunting than it did back in 1969, with extended flamenco-flecked ambient interludes that serve to emphasise, rather than detract from, the crushing hard rock chords that come hurtling through.
And somehow, his choice of solo material managed to keep up with the Zeppelin numbers. Rainbow from 2014’s Lullaby and… the Ceaseless Roar in particular sounded gargantuan in the Clyde Auditorium, its polyrhythmic percussion assault contrasting beautifully with the jangling indie-rock guitars and breezy melodies offered by the other side of the band. My favourite moments from the show, however, came in the form of traditional folk cuts reimagined for a contemporary audience. The blues classic Fixin’ To Die, for example, was contorted beyond recognition, with pulsing synthesisers and skittering drum machines battling against dissonant guitar solos that really pushed the expectations of the (predominantly white male) crowd to hear Black Dog bellowed out before them. None of this would be particularly special if it wasn’t for the fact that Plant is now nearly in his 70s and is still refusing to bend to the cliches he made his name on; yet unlike a similar icon Bob Dylan he does so in a humorous, chatty, self-effacing way, regularly discussing the origins of songs whilst taking pot shots at himself.
After roughly an hour and a half of the most eclectic array of genres I’ve ever heard in one sitting (country to African music, blues to art rock, and beyond), The Sensational Space Shifters decided to turn everything up to eleven and end with WHOLE LOTTA FUCKING LOVE. Hearing that song for the first time on record can blow open the doors as to what rock music can be, and since then it, like most of Zeppelin’s hits, has unfortunately fallen into the nether of overplayed. Yet when that momentous, staggering riff falls on ears live, it can send shivers down the spine, and it did just that in the Armadillo. Plant’s voice may have diminished in the decades since it was originally recorded, but he gave it all his might, and the crowd lapped it up; his yells and screams echoing throughout the room to cheers and whoops. That’s the way live concerts ought to be.