If it were possible to disrupt time and space with a flourish of the hands – to sweep the air with poised fingertips and alter reality – Robert Plant would be one of the few mortals with this power. It seems entirely plausible when those instinctive Led Zeppelin moves sneak into his present-day stage presence. Like it’s 1973, he outstretches his arms, points to the heavens, and locks into golden god poses worthy of his resonant timbre, whipping up wild screams all the while. Even with the leather pants, though, it’s a different show on this tour. If you’re expecting an electric surge of chart-toppers, take a lap around the rosé stand and settle down in your seat, because that’s not what you’re getting right now. Working with bluegrass-country star Alison Krauss – in ‘07 and currently – has been a cool adjustment for Plant and a masterclass in evolution for the rest of us. He was visibly stirred by her skills as they smoothly exchanged lines and vibes on Saturday night at New York’s Forest Hills Stadium.
In this collaborative configuration, Plant seems creatively challenged in all the ways that produce the best sounds. No one can huff and puff about watching him recreate the past or rip through the usual hits, even though he could easily skate by with such a routine. So refreshingly, no one is measuring him against some cardboard cutout of classic-rock expectations. He gives them something altogether different to dissect. Detail-oriented fans, rejoice: opportunities for analysis abound. Is he coaxing the inner rocker out of Krauss? Is this multitalented songstress bringing out a certain mellow sweetness in Plant? And who would have guessed that The Everly Brothers would be as well covered as Led Zeppelin in this setlist? It’s true; we got the bros’ “The Price of Love,” “Gone Gone Gone,” and “Stick With Me Baby” peppered in with just enough Led to stave off a riot: a bucolic “Rock and Roll,” “The Battle of Evermore,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”
The simple setting emphasized their sonorous mix. Tiny white string lights were draped in front of pale curtains that gradually shifted from purple to blue to yellow. So far, their twenty-song show, including two encores and some Krauss-only features, has not been changing much from date to date. If you’re catching them sometime soon, you can expect the majority of the performance to be covers – lively, well-crafted takes on Benny Spellman, Little Milton, Bert Jansch, Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces, Lucinda Williams, and others. Plant’s longtime fans, so many of them in his own age group, are likely coming to concerts for different reasons than they did in their teens. They seemed to relish the sophistication of their set, and it was a very serious, seated experience among this seasoned group. There was even some polite-adult peer pressure directed at those who blocked the view with occasional standing or dancing. The ensemble, strengthened by vibrant stand-up bass and strings, supported the stars with a strikingly polished sound. Old R&B opener “Rich Woman” by Li’l Millet and His Creoles – covered by Plant and Krauss on their ‘07 album, Raising Sand – kickstarted all the excitement. It crescendoed through favorites like “Please Read the Letter” and songs from the pair’s latest record, 2021’s Raise the Roof.
Laundry-battered tees throughout the Queens crowd showcased voluminous 80s solo tour hair – precisely the era when Robert Plant seemed to stop physically aging. Notably, he also looks even fitter than when we saw him in ‘18 and ‘15, and he was beaming with energy. They were a full forty-nine minutes into the show when he finally paused for a greeting, causing a total cheer explosion. “Good evening, everybody! I thought I’d lost the gift of speech, but oh! It’s great to be back. It’s taken us a while, and here we go.” The legends don’t need to say much; Plant can just shrug one shoulder and earn similar big applause, so why stop for a grand soliloquy? He already won us over years ago and is only gaining wider respect with these twists in his career path. Satisfyingly, he invested every pre-curfew minute they had into the music, smiling ear to ear as he and Krauss harmonized through intricate passages. Security guards could be seen dancing in the passageways, and the celebratory experience was further enhanced by a summer breeze. It was the kind of weather to give you chills from head to toe, but those were already in high supply thanks to the duo’s dulcet vocals.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley