Robert Plant totally rocked the BottleRock festival in Napa California on May 30, 2015. We brought a dozen friends along for our birthday weekend, and went in with mixed expectations – knowing he would do some of his own material and of course some Led Zeppelin classics and generally just hoping to see this rock n’ roll legend perform at his best.
From the start we were actually a bit shocked at how incredible the show was. Robert opened with “The Wanton Song” an old Zeppelin classic, performed pretty much as originally recorded. What followed was a mix of his solo work, covers, and Zeppelin songs, including “Black Dog”, “The Lemon Song”, “What Is and What Should Never Be” and others. During Robert’s rendition of “Going To California” a 20 something woman behind me started to cry and I realized what an impact Zeppelin’s music and Robert’s vocal prowess have meant to generations.
But much of what we appreciated was actually Robert’s new work. He and band messed with the structure of those old Zep tunes, interspersing them with similarly dark and dramatic songs from his new album lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, an aptly named record that explores America’s roots music. They performed “Turn It Up”, “Rainbow” and “Little Maggie” (check out Little Maggie here) from that new album and proceeded to flavor covers and old songs alike with the same type of instrumentation and song structure; a mix of delta blues, Appalachian folk and other forms which often meandered about and around verse and chorus via virtuosic instrumentals. To further underline his inspirations, Robert covered Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Bukka White, Muddy Waters and other American blues masters. Robert spoke glowingly about these artists and his quest to explore their music, adding to the sense of historical occasion. It all made for a thoroughly enjoyable brew of rock-‘n-roots that wove a path between atmospheric dark and light tones.
The musicianship was first rate (his excellent band is dubbed “The Sensational Space Shifters”) and Robert’s voice was warm and pliant, as he has most definitely worked out how to preserve his given instrument – hitting some of the high notes required to replicate bits of his early 20’s Zep work while still having the mid range, growl and soft tones for his new work and covers. I listened trying to imagine him doing more Zeppelin reunion shows and couldn’t see it – as much as old fans might fawn, at this stage of life it would seem a shame to see Robert locked into a Zeppelin hits tour, during which he would be expected to sound as much like the old records as possible. We will spin our 2007 Celebration DVD instead – my guess is it’s not going to happen again. Instead Robert was able to bend and weave through selected tunes in a confident, skilled voice, changing key and pitch to suit. With so many classic rock vocalists unable to perform later in life in any compelling way, it was an absolute joy to hear Robert sounding so good and looking truly happy – that made the show everything we hoped it could be and more.