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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 

ROBERT PLANT AND THE STRANGE SENSATION, The Forum, London, December 6th 2005

Isn’t it strange how you can get a thought in your mind, and it just won’t go away. Like Health and Safety. Why, in a packed balcony of a packed Forum did the security guys allow people to sit in the gangways, effectively making exit to bar, beer and potentially escape, impossible for several hundred people?

ROBERT PLANT
And why, at the end of the gig were all the upstairs exits closed (yes – I know, it was the after show piss-up in the bar) forcing a few unpleasant moments of anger frustration and panic on this most good natured of crowds as we were herded down narrow stairways to the main dance floor? And why – even there – was the route to the exit obstructed by the merchandising store?
Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers And who booked Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers as support act? They deserved their own particular health warning – “what were they called then?” asked the computer guys behind me, “we need to know so we can be sure never to see them again…” Actually I quite liked them, but was largely in a minority of one in this jungle of ‘I was at Knebworth’ T-shirt wearing Led Zeppelin fans. And why was no weight limit put on the crowd? I have rarely been on a balcony that rocked and rolled as much as this one, but when Mr and Mrs Whoateallthepies stood up to dance at the end I swear my whole life passed before my eyes.
In fact it seemed to me that the only person who’d really taken note of health and safety lessons learned was the svelte Robert Plant, in his now-famous baggy self-fibrillating trousers, invented especially for him after his eleven years leading the world’s greatest rock band in the world’s tightest trousers.
There’s a bit of a Middle Eastern hippy thing going on, somewhat alarmingly reminiscent of CS&N. Rugs on the stage, bunches of joss sticks burning from the monitors (regularly refreshed by the roadies), and peppermint tea in a nice mug for Mr Plant.
ROBERT PLANT
All we’re missing are scented rose petals. As the band crack into two tunes from the new album The Mighty Rearranger, they begin to dance around the stage like spliffed-out waiters in a Stoke Newington kebab house, with no regard for how many plates they smash. ‘Ooops’ says Plant as he drops his tambourine (he’d earlier only narrowly avoiding strangling himself as he tried a bit of microphone swirling callisthenics), “I keep on seeing the doctor about that but I just can’t remember how to do it any more”. The new album, if you haven’t heard it, is a real cracker, with a Grammy nomination for Plant as vocalist on the song ‘Shine it all around’, and for the song (‘Best hard rock performance’) ‘Tin Pan Alley’, both of which we got in the course of the evening, along with ‘Another tribe’, ‘Let the four winds blow’ and ‘The enchanter’ (I think). These songs are richly textured rock pieces, where, according to something I read, ‘the Mississippi Delta meets the Atlas Mountains’.
The Middle Eastern stuff marks a logical progression for Plant given his recent work, and it can even be heard in some Zeppelin songs too, but it’s cranked up by the new band, for which the word ‘accomplished’ is hardly sufficient. They weave their songs together with mastery – and it was a pleasure just to see them at work. At the back of the band is a sort of West of England conspiracy – keyboard player John Baggott worked with Bristol’s Massive Attack and Portishead, drummer Clive Deamer is a veteran of Portishead’s path breaking Dummy, whilst bass player, the ‘unknown’ Billy Fuller is also a Bristol ex-pat.
Robert Plant Up front guitarists Skin and Adams perform a lip smacking beauty parade of mostly hollow bodied guitars (who polishes them?). Skin is mostly hunched over his guitars, periodically tweaking the rather excessive four story effects tower at the right of the stage. Justin Adams leads the dervish dancing and, brought up in a diplomatic family in the Middle East (where he also learned to play the blues guitar) seems to be the main source of the devilish mix of musical and cultural influences that inform their set. All the songs are set in this similar deep groove which you might think was repetitive – but it’s Plant’s voice (which is remarkably fresh) and the individual twists and turns that the band give them that keep it fresh. And, I should observe, they’re all having a wonderful time, and none are subdued by being in the presence of a Rock God.
“Hey, how do you like my covers band?” says Plant. In addition to the new work they play Arthur Lee and Love’s ‘Seven and seven is’, Dylan’s ‘The girl from the North country’ and an absolutely awesome version of ‘Hey Joe’ – sorry for the hyperbole Whiskyfun rock fans – but you just had to be there to hear this one. And then of course there’s the Zeppelin material – artfully mixed into the set. ‘Black Dog’ comes first. Then “this is the song that was born in the misty mountains of the last century … you can’t keep on trading on that, unless you need to …” as they break into ‘Going to California’, a souked-up version of ‘What is and what should never be’ (which includes a grinning Plant astride the front of the stage, mike-stand above his head), ‘When the levee breaks’, and finally after a very bluesy Justin Adams led ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ the inevitable, but highly agreeable, ‘Whole lotta love’ – and even this wasn’t spared the Kebab shop treatment.
Of course by then it was little short of mayhem – the balcony tossed and pitched like a boat at sea, jumping, dancing, hands waving, why even the friezing Roman centurions on the walls seemed to be waving their spears and brandishing their shields along with the irresistible rhythms. And in a few corners even some tears from youngsters who obviously never thought they’d witness the day.     Robert Plant
Robert Plant It was a scorcher. Buy the album – and try and find a soon to be released live EP of the new band recorded in Paris (just hope and pray it has ‘Hey Joe’ on it). By combining with a young(ish) and highly innovative band Plant has shown that under the right circumstances old rock and rollers need never die. At the end as they left the stage he paused, walked back to the microphone, shrugged his shoulders and said “what else should I do?”. Quite right too. - Nick Morgan (concert photos: colour by Kate, black by Nick's new Nokia).



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