Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation Dodge Theatre, Phoenix, AZ – 7/15/05
I come from Tin Pan Valley and I’m moving right along
"Our shadows taller than our soul"a lyric from "Stairway to Heaven" that has sometimes haunted Robert Plant since Led Zeppelin's endwas not a symbolic hook on this Arizona eve. Darned if the rock god hasn't done his best to assimilate the mystique while closing the door on its claustrophobia. His new CD "Mighty Rearranger"made with the band he has been gigging with for the last three yearsis a smart rush of fiery rock tinged with his usual dose of African, Indian and Middle East sonic adventures. From the fantastic "Tin Pan Valley" with its refusal to give into the temptations of nostalgia to the amazing desert rhythms of "Takamba" onto the hidden thirteenth tracka eight minute re-mix of "Shine It All Around" and a brilliant take on 21st Century house music, the sextet rips holes through anything remotely dull, cliched or lifeless.
I live on former glory, so long ago and gone
The "Shine It All Around" re-mix opened the show as the house lights went down and burgundy stage lights lit the stage to create a warm feeling of anticipation. After five or six minutes of the studio track gaining force over the speakers, the band hit the stage and Plant walked to his place on center stageevery inch the rock star with a voice that can still shake the walls that surround. The tape ended and the Strange Sensation burst into a startling version of "No Quarter" as a re-worked African percussion numberslow, dreamy waltz with a switch into some very cool heavy guitar theatrics midway through from Skin Tyson and Justin Adams.
I’m moving up to higher ground, I’ve found a new way out.
Suddenly, the title of the new CD made sense to me. Continuing his work he began with Jimmy Page in the mid-90s as they forged new numbers based on classic and obscure (if that word can even be used to describe any of the work by Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham) tracks, Plant has fused his back catalog with energetic interpretations that echo Dylan's live work while also creating music that is both contemporary and groundbreaking. Let's face ityou're not going to hear a better tandem than a volcanic "Black Dog>Takamba" by anyone else these days. Furthermore, the man knows drama and he still has an endearing wit with several stage Plantations that were unexpected. Before the canine song, Plant said, "Is there anybody out there?" several times to a) wake the crowd? b) pay homage to the recent Pink Floyd reunion? c) not take himself too seriously and goof off a bit like he always seems to do? d) spook his rock idol bones? The old "Dog" was wall-to-wall slinky grooves with the usual audience participation on vocals and a great stage light effect that was right out of the bulb backdrop tricks presented in the Talking Heads' concert film "Stop Making Sense." Living on former glory? Hardly. The man refuses to play his note-for-note Vegas Greatest Hits show.
Every day’s like Sunday, down here on memory lane
"Takamba"West African desert song with a brief nod to its lineage before the band pumps out power chords in a tight little rocker. Plant goes into a rap about a camel that only he could generate and then describes an "American song from the 60s when people were involved in an anti-government movement as America was involved in an unpopular war." Plant is far too clever to mention the parallels between that era and our own present day. Instead, whiplashthe band smokes into a version of "Morning Dew" that doesn't sound anything like the Grateful Dead number. John Baggot's keyboard work on this song were particularly noteworthysupportive yet a rich texture all his own. The "Dew" time signatures have been altered but, the drama is emphasized with Plant's vocals and a fresh audio perspective. I raced to the restroom at this point since this wasn't a Widespread Panic showno setbreaks. The loud chatter in the stalls made me laugh. "He's into that Eastern shit now!" There was a pause. (I thought: "Yeah, uh, since like 1969, dude."). "IT'S COOL!!!" His friend agreed in even louder tones as I headed back to my seat.
Salad days and no good ways can drive me quite insane
"This was a Small Faces-type of song for us. Don't forgetit's the hips, the hips," said Plant in his usual obscure humor that made you think for a few seconds before the: "Uh, is that a sex reference, Percy?" "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do" entered the theatre as a self-assured cock rock waltz. This number was the only unreleased album track featured as a B-side in America"The Immigrant Song" was the A-side. That fact made me ponder the thought that Plant had made an entire post-Zep career out of flip sides and song fade outs. If you listen closely to his solo work, he always puts cool little themes, solos and studio effects near the fade out. I'm sure a lot of that comes from his work with his producer bandmate, Jimmy Page, but, I think it also originated from his love of old 45s. An ancient artform of songs that seems to have [forgive the pun] faded away is inserting sweet little snippets at the end of the song as it fades away before the next track enters. "Hey, Hey…"a track from his salad days? Perhaps, but that would be a lazy comment while eliminating a critical take on his brilliant modern tunes. Speaking of…"Tin Pan Valley" is a killer rave up classic on the new CD and, in Arizona, the band roared into the jacked up guitar crunch sequence with another cool strobe light effect equal parts Radiohead and Yardbirds. Tyson and Adams locked into the groove quite well as heads rocked back and forth in the crowd risking paralysis and insanity.
I’m through the doorI’m moving right along
As I finish this eccentric review of one of our most beloved and eccentric artists, I reassess my notes. "Mighty Rearranger"a tune that had Plant whipping out his harp for a mean slice of Chicago Blues that went down really well as this passage was followed a little later on by an unplugged version of "When the Levee Breaks." Againatypical performance: acoustic guitar, mandolin, standup bass, echoed vocals and random percussion. The song ended with yet another display of unpredictable drama when the band segued into a perfect techno-stroll closure. The man defies simple classification so, sometimes the writer has no choice but to echo his lyrics: Robert Plant may have a career shadow that will always stand tall but I seriously doubt if it will ever be larger than his soul: a gypsy, a nomad, an artist with insatiable curiosity and an inability of letting music rest quietly on its lofty laurels.