Live Review: Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, Seth Lakeman

3 April 2018 | 11:25 am | Guido Farnell

"The Sensational Space Shifters and Robert Plant casually saunter out on stage and simply blow the crowd away with a version of Led Zeppelin's 'What Is And What Should Never Be'."

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Perfunctorily announcing that he's here to warm the crowd, Seth Lakeman picks up his violin and fiddles his way into the audience's hearts with a selection of his folk songs.

Throughout the set, he variously plays the violin, viola, bouzouki and guitar while accompanying himself with a brooding synth backing track. Nominated for the Mercury Prize back in 2005, Lakeman has been around for many years and has been described as something of a poster boy of modern folk. He slickly presents a short set of folk tunes with a decidedly English feel. Lakeman seems a very grounded individual taking inspiration from the history and legends of his country and observations of the people around him. Ballad Of The Broken Few tells the true tale of men who lost their lives at sea and later, showcasing a song from his upcoming new album, he delivers an ode to an inspirational teacher. The mournful Portrait Of My Wife is a kind of drinking song that elicits a weak singalong with Lakeman.

Soon the roadies are ceremoniously placing huge burning sticks of incense about the stage. As the perfumed smoke reaches out to our nostrils we find ourselves somewhat oddly sitting in darkness listening to the surf rock goodness of Link Wray's Rumble.

The Sensational Space Shifters and Robert Plant casually saunter out on stage and simply blow the crowd away with a version of Led Zeppelin's What Is And What Should Never Be. Plant pulls some obligatory rock star moves with an ironic smile on his face. Plant's voice, although not running as rough on the more demanding wild howls, is as electrifying as it ever was. Turning 70 this year, the undisputed '70s rock god has mellowed into a sage, wizardly Gandalf type who still rocks hard but with more depth. In among the applause Plant calls out one lady who requests that he takes off his shirt. "At this stage of life," he laughs "I'm keeping it to myself." It is an amusing turn for a for the lead singer of a band who were accused of being cock rockers back in the day. Nonetheless, tonight's show has brought out a significant proportion of ageing male Baby Boomers.

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Songs like Turn It Up and The May Queen highlight that Led Zeppelin happened a long time ago and that Plant still knows how to pen a brilliant song with searching lyrics that overflow with a certain consciousness. Plant's evolution as an artist isn't over despite the handful of Led Zeppelin treats contained in the setlist. Zeppelin's wistful Going To California merges seamlessly with the instantly classic All The King's Horses. Once recorded with Jimmy Page, the heavier guitar vibes of Please Read The Letter are left behind for the folksier feel of the version recorded with Alison Krauss.

Plant's music has always existed at the intersection of English folk, American blues and the exoticism of Moorish style. Versioning Led Zeppelin's cover of Leadbelly's Gallows Pole, Plant more directly acknowledges his debt to the blues. Doubling up as Plant's fiddler, Seth Lakeman's violin seemingly leads the band to more Celtic folksy vibes on this tune.

As the show progresses it rocks harder and a blistering version of Bukka White's Fixin' To Die harnesses the mighty power of The Sensational Space Shifters, who play together like a well-oiled machine. Recalling being raided by authorities back in '72 when Led Zeppelin toured Australia, Plant laughs at the past in hindsight, dismissing said authorities as a bunch of fascists. 

Misty Mountain Hop ends the show with a protest vibe. Naturally the crowd demand more. The hard-rocking New World... sets the scene for an explosive version of Whole Lotta Love, which is mashed up with Bring It On Home and Santianna. The audience are brought to their feet as Plant and his band produce a loud and wild noise that bounces with groove and makes it feel good to be alive.