When it’s someone as important as Robert Plant, even the smallest details of the evening can make your pulse quicken. The bold “SOLD OUT” on the marquee. The fans lined up all the way around the block. That cheerful bleep when your ticket is scanned. Glimpses of the tour shirts and goodies for sale. The Beacon Theatre’s ornate walls glittering in the dark. The significance of these tiny moments was not lost on the attendees coming in, many of whom were from a Led Zeppelin-spinning era and arrived in enviable tour shirts of their own. And it was more than just butterflies or fanatical jitters; you could really feel the immense love for the man seeping into the space, and not just because it was Valentine’s Day.
After so many little thrills in succession, you almost start to go numb until the moment he appears. But when the jolt of reality hits, the joy of seeing him take the stage is transcendental. Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters – who were 5, often 6 strong with the addition of their newest touring member, violinist Seth Lakeman – approached their instruments like scientists picking up familiar tools in the lab, concocting a sound that was pure and pristine. They poured their contagious energy into opening song “New World…” from Plant’s latest album, Carry Fire, with scintillating precision – and when the man himself started to sing, the sold-out theatre leapt to their feet in total admiration.
Truly, his voice sounds exactly like you hope it will; its ineffable tonality, warmth and strength so perfectly intact, the rush of familiarity is gripping. When witnessing a performance by Robert Plant, it’s almost hard to believe that he’s really standing there in the flesh, breathing the same oxygen, maybe even catching your eye as he looks out into the crowd. But when you see even his subtlest movements on stage – his cool claps of encouragement when his band hits a good groove, his swordfighter grasp of the mic stand, his reverent expression as the waves of applause drift up to his ears – you realize how little he’s changed. Oftentimes, when he turns around to observe his rhythm section, you can easily picture his 25-year-old self turning back around to face you. The first time he addressed the audience, it was clear that his wit is just as unchanging. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome,” Plant announced in a soothing tone. “You’re in the safe hands of the Sensational Space Shifters. We bring you good tidings from across the water, where we also are in deep shit. Not quite as much as you are, but still.”
The collective laugh this prompted was quickly drowned out by the music, and Plant was visibly having a fine time with his band, frequently supplementing their well-traveled, eclectic sound with a tambourine and a hand drum. Compared to his previous NYC show in 2015, which featured a number of Zeppelin hits, last night’s setlist was more honed in on his recent solo work – but not without some fan favorites peppered in, including “That’s the Way,” “Gallows Pole,” the old Bukka White blues song, “Fixin’ to Die” (that Led Zeppelin used to work into live medleys), “Misty Mountain Hop,” and final encore song, “Whole Lotta Love,” during which they magically wove in the folk song, “Santy Anno.” Robert Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters also treated NYC to some classic covers, including “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Joan Baez (covered on Zeppelin’s 1969 debut album), traditional tune “Little Maggie,” and the Jimmy Page co-penned “Please Read the Letter” – before which Plant joked, “In those days, I stayed up until 11.”
It was inspiring to see so many longtime Led Zeppelin fans embrace Plant’s latest work with just as much passion as the classics, and the fact that he’s constantly working on new music feels like a tremendous gift. Trying to choose a favorite moment from last night’s show is like trying to choose a favorite Zeppelin album, but one particular question from Plant, just before they played “Misty Mountain Hop,” was so lovely, it was almost dizzying. “Can you feel it?” he asked simply, as if it was the only concern on his mind; the only thing that really mattered. Since the crowd responded with a cacophony of screams, as concert crowds do, it’s a question worth revisiting here. We can feel it, Mr. Plant, and we are so grateful.
Author: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley