June 30, 2005
Chastain Park Amphitheatre - Atlanta

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It's been a long time since Robert Plant has rolled this way. Since his last solo show in Atlanta (12 years ago), he has reunited and split again from his Led Zeppelin partner Jimmy Page. Now, at age 57, Plant has totally abandoned his ‘80s and ‘90s solo work and chosen instead to focus on brand new material from his current band, The Strange Sensation. Their first album, 2002’s Dreamland, gained a GRAMMY nomination but disappeared quickly from the public eye. Let’s hope the just released, brilliant and appropriately titled Mighty Rearranger cuts through the glut. If it doesn’t, it’s not because Plant has lost “it” somewhere. It would only be because the Zep fan base has finally and irretrievably closed its collective mind. The new material is among Plant’s best work and has a very familiar aroma. This band may be called The Strange Sensation but for all intents and purposes, (as much as it pains me to use this phrase) the song remains the same.

That was evidenced quickly at the Chastain Park show. And the fact that the audience responded as positively to Mighty Rearranger as to the old warhorses proved it. Ah, just to breathe in the stop and start swagger of “Tin Pan Valley”. It was as thick and heavy as the humid air. Sure, the band – featuring members of Portishead, Roni Size and Massive Attack – looks forward with electronic ambience but that skull-crushing riff and the banshee wails could only be the spirit of ’76 raising its head. The Mighty Rearranger material shared 50/50 billing with mightily rearranged versions of songs from Plant’s “other band.” In fact, the new single “Shine It All Around” was sandwiched between “No Quarter” and “Black Dog.” Of course, no one even recognized them ‘til the lyrics began but none of that mattered once the “hey, hey mama’s” started. This was very different – and that ability to morph, is itself part of what made Led Zeppelin such a stirring and unforgettable four-headed monster.



Going in, I had figured that no one would be interested in the new stuff. To my pleasant surprise, I was very wrong. The crowd even licked up “Freedom Fries”, a politically charged, spastic, hard to follow rocker (in 9/8 time) that kept the crowd charged up between familiar jolts. And there were plenty of turned-on-the-ear classics. “Heartbreaker” was returned to the Mississippi delta (with Plant in full Presley swagger) while the previously mentioned “No Quarter” seemed straight out of North Africa. But of all of the reinventions, “Gallows Pole” may be the preeminent example of the perfection with which Plant and his current band meld their influences. A Celtic intro had people clapping along before they even knew the tune. By the time the Moroccan laced guitar parts slithered over the galloping rhythm section and that familiar voice played “hang man”, even the staunchest doubter was addicted.

Plant did play it straight on a few of the favorites. A stunning “That’s The Way” seemed to float across the audience. Artificial lights bounced off of mirror balls that accented a beautiful Southern evening by echoing the stars above. The atmosphere, as much as the performance, made this feel like the centerpiece of the concert. The body of the show wrapped up with a tough, acoustic “When The Levee Breaks.”

For the first encore, Plant chose “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” He didn’t even attempt the top notes but he did take the drama to the same illogical extreme that made him famous in the first place. I mean, jeez, the word “baby” was nearly turned into a mantra. I counted Plant moan it no less than 49 times. After referencing the blues standards “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, the show ended by giving everyone a bottle full of the vintage. “Whole Lotta Love” was the same drug-addled, dirty piece of sludge that it was over 3 and a half decades ago. Plant reached for “every inch” and even conjured the twilight of the gods inducing “loooooove” that everyone wondered if he could still do. Coming at the end of the 9-minute blues-metal drone, that sound is as timeless and potent as ever. That’s Plant’s legacy. Unlike virtually all of his contemporaries, he hasn’t forgotten to keep pushing the edges. One foot is clearly rooted in the 21st century. At the same time, he still knows how to pilot a Zeppelin.

  Chris McKay /

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