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Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters Live (Sydney Opera House)

I saw Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters on their first tour of Australia in 2013, before Plant had released his first album backed by the group, Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar (2014). That performance at the Sydney Entertainment Centre (sometimes derided as the Empty Space Centre), mostly featured Led Zeppelin tunes, given a twist. It was a great show and it was the gift of a lifetime seeing the great man perform Zep classics such as Black Dog and Rock ’n’ Roll, but last night’s performance was superior.

The “Hammer of the Gods” circa 1976 would’ve been perfect for the Ent. Cent but Robert Plant today belongs in the Opera House. He has released two albums with the Shape Shifters and they’ve had time to really gel as an ensemble.

Led Zeppelin touched on Eastern music (most notably on the epic, but somewhat repetitive, Kashmir), but Plant has really embraced it since his work with Jimmy Page in the ’90s on the No Quarter album. His records with the Sensational Space Shifters dip into the string sounds of Morocco, Egypt and the Middle East. (Some of the songs played live with guitars are tuned and played to reverberate like an oud).

Plant is touring Australia in support of his new album Carry Fire. It was placed number 32 in Rolling Stone’s Top 50 albums of 2017, and it is indeed cracking.

Opening track The May Queen sets the tone and while it gently incorporates some Eastern elements, it is a folk rock workout that wouldn’t sound out of place on Led Zeppelin III. Song two, New World is a standout. A mid tempo rocker, it appropriately introduces a theme of the evils of colonialism that is referenced throughout the album.

The album’s masterpiece is the title track Carry Fire. My word, it is good. Sprawling and ethereal, it has one foot in the Kasbah and one foot in a rock ’n’ roll club. It would fit in just nicely in Page and Plant’s No Quarter set. It was a highlight of last night’s performance. It took us out over the misty mountains …Speaking of misty mountains, the audience went crazy when a version of Going to California from the canonical Led Zeppelin IV, was delivered in impeccable style … Oh boy!

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The early part of the show was dominated by new songs but thereafter the set featured covers aplenty. Of the newer songs, Rainbow and the rocking Turn it Up from the Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar album were highlights. His version of the traditional song Little Maggie that appeared on the Lullaby album, also went down a treat.

What Led Zeppelin tunes were played I hear you ask? Aside from Going to California, the Opera House heard What Is and What Should Never BeGallows Pole (endowed with a fiddle flourish that doesn’t appear on the recorded version on Led Zeppelin III), Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, Thank You and, of course, Whole Lotta Love.

Those who wanted to hear more hard rock probably enjoyed the blistering version of an old Bukka White song, Fixin’ to Die. It was probably the security contingents’ least favourite track.

Plant is known for his amusing between song banter. Last night, he complained often about the man caught sleeping through his show at the State Theatre three nights previously. He also told us of being woken up by police searching through his bags when Led Zeppelin were in Sydney in 1972. He went on to say that we “still have a fascist government”. Indeed! Rock ’n’ Roll! Robert Plant still has it in spades!

Photos by Prudence Upton

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters play Bluesfest tomorrow March 30, then Melbourne April 1 and 2, Adelaide April 5 and Perth April 8

11 responses to “Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters Live (Sydney Opera House)

  1. Flew to Sydney from Wellington NZ to see Robert Plant at the State Theatre. He and the band were flawless. Felt like the audience floated out of the concert on a cloud. truly inspiring music. I felt that Plant was not convinced we were enjoying the night though as he kept making little sarcastic quips like ‘settle down’ if he heard hollaring/whistles etc from the crowd. I guess the guy falling asleep didn’t give the right impression… that fellow must have been dragged there by his wife or maybe has sleep apnea? Still it’s always an opportunity missed when the music is so good but you aren’t allowed out of your seats to dance. Dancing like you are paralysed from the waist down at this concert was torture. But with the very heavy security at the door including sniffer dog and body scanning the tone was set regarding rule breaking.

  2. What I love about Robert Plant, and it was especially apparent at both his Opera House gigs (yes, I went to both), is that he is not a greatest hits jukebox but still innovates and adapts with his music.
    Sure when he knocks out an old Zeppelin tune it almost gets religious but pieces like Fixin’ to Die are up there with his/Zep’s best work while the likes of the May Queen references his past (and ‘that song’) while still moving forward.
    Still the most compelling rock performer with no one, then or now, having a stage presence like he does.
    Took my boys (22 and 18) the first night, they loved it. For the younger one, he’d been at the Entertainment Centre in 2013.

  3. Im seeing him on Staurday at the Palais in Melbourne. Wont be able to see squat unfortunately but ill finally get to go to a Robert Plant gig after being a huge fan my entire life. Thanks for the write up im excited to hear Kashmir (i absolutely loved the Unplugged version)

  4. This was the best i have ever seen and i have been to a lot of concerts
    This band has hit its straps and is kicking arse
    What a show mix of new and old with a twist
    Loved it and would do it again in a heart beat
    Please tour again we love you

  5. Sydney Opera House, pleasant and clear autumn night, city lights, wife and kids, people everywhere, buzz of concert goers and tourists and locals just hanging around.

    I don’t often think this, but there was no place on earth better to be last night.

    Haven’t had such a sense of anticipation before a musical event. I’ve looked forward to gigs, of course, but there was a real sense that this was something special.

    RP opened with The Rain Song, wow, just to tick that one off for me and the daughter, and followed with just under two hours of incredible music and musicianship. I haven’t listened to his latest albums so much of it was new to me, but that was irrelevant. It was just quality, all the way down.

    One of the great music nights, at a venue that is so good for artists/musicians of this calibre. Sound was excellent and unlike The old Ent Centre or even the Homebush gig place, it still retains intimacy.

    You wouldn’t put the Mona Lisa in a tent!

  6. I,m the happy man on earth I was at the Opera house Plant concert BEST of the BEST!!!!! thank you Robert Plant

  7. I’m proud to say that I’ve seen Plant on every one of the musical tours to Australia in which he’s taken part, and also followed his more recent career with enthusiasm. It was a terrific show and the band is as tight as a drum, and clearly having fun. I have no problem with an emphasis on new material or on radical reinterpretation of Zep repertoire and, in fact, prefer it. I’ve got the Zep records at home if I need them, after all. And the smaller venues this time around are ideal for the band and the show they put on.
    But I can’t believe you neglected to mention him opening with What Is And What Should Never Be! That had an immediate wow! factor and illustrated the interplay between the guitarists in particular straight off. No stairway to heaven for you.!

  8. Seeing him tonight. Thanks for the review. Trying not to over-egg it, going in expecting a nice show and hoping I come away a changed human being.

    Saw the tickets for sale last October and taking the wife, the 20 year old and the 18 year old, all delirious lovers of music.

    Cost a leg, but thought it would be my last chance to see him, not being likely to get to splendour. So glad I did.

  9. The police searching through the bags incident in 1972 was actually in Perth where the local cops were determined to be heroes and make a bust but came up empty handed.

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