The O2 Arena, London, UK – October 26, 2018
Disc 1 (50:56) Ramble On, Turn It Up, The May Queen, Rainbow, Black Dog, The Rain Song, Gallows Pole, Carry Fire
Disc 2 (64:48) Skin Tyson guitar solo / Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, Little Maggie, Fixin’ To Die, New World…, Whole Lotta Love. Bonus Tracks: AABOO Grandview Stage, Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar, California – September 16, 2018: The Lemon Song, Poor Howard, Going To California, Medley: Bring It On Home / Whole Lotta Love / Santianna / Whole Lotta Love
Robert Plant played the 2018 London Blues Festival as a co-headliner along with Irish musical legend Van Morrison. In a press release, BluesFest Director Leo Green had this to say, “For BluesFest to present an evening featuring full sets from Robert Plant & Van Morrison is a huge honour. Robert Plant & Van Morrison have made some of the most important recordings in the history of music and they both continue to be as vital, relevant and brilliant as they have always been – this promises to be an incredible evening”. Equally inspired, Robert released his own statement regarding the event, “It’s been way over 50 years since I first shared the stage with Van Morrison; and his band were positioned no.2 on the charts with ‘Here Comes the Night’. His style then and now remains unique and loaded with deep soul. I’m looking forward to an exciting and dynamic night”.
On the evening, Van Morrison and his band would play first turning in an exciting 90 minute set showcasing his unique mix of Soul and Blues, the highlight of his set were certainly the Baby, Please Don’t Go / Rock Island Line / Cry Cry Baby / Got My Mojo Workin medley, a seamless slice of blues mastery. This performance has been released and as Bluesfest 2018 (Golden Eggs EGG 68/69), an obvious companion piece to this new title featuring the complete set from Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters. The source for both the Van Morrison title and this Robert Plant title are IEM and audience source matrix’s and both are of excellent quality, pristine and clear sounding great at both low and high volumes not to mention everything in between!
There is about a two minute intro before the band takes the stage with Ramble On, the classic Led Zeppelin II favorite. The Space Shitfters are each master musicians and their interpretations of the older Zeppelin material breathe new life into the music. One that sticks out is the work of keyboardist John Baggot, his playing adds an interesting element to the very textured sounds this band creates. Turn It Up from Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar, superb lyrical tale of spending time in the deep South of America and finding little in the form of inspiration on American radio. It is after this song that Robert addresses the crowd “We’re going to bring you some different kinds of music, some old stuff, its going to be put through the grinder who knows how its going to turn out.” The lead off track from his most recent record, Carry Fire, The May Queen takes its inspiration from the rebirth of spring and not from Stairway To Heaven. The song is followed by the tribal rhythm of Rainbow, a whimsical tale of new love as only Robert can tell.
While Ramble On was kind of straight forward, Black Dog is certainly one that gets put through the grinder and with incredible results. The beginning has a more linear sound yet maintains the stops and starts so the audience can get a little participation going. Again the Hammond organ just adds something to this music, a perfect melding of Psychedelia, Blues, and Rock that keeps the listener on their toes, the ending is a mash of musical style while Plant sings “Oh baby, pretty baby” over the top, brilliant. The Rain Song is re-imagined with the piano playing the melody before switching to strings and acoustic guitar, its simplicity is beautiful and elegant and a song of love. Plant gives a wonderful introduction to Leadbelly in his introduction to Gallows Pole, the song itself is certainly American roots music at its best, acoustic guitars meld with fiddle with an almost Bluegrass flair, one would think you were at a hootenanny. If not for the lyrics, the song bears little resemblance to the version on Led Zeppelin III. From Appalachian inspiration to the Middle Eastern with Carry Fire, musically an extension of Friends, Kashmir and the UnLedded project, the exotic rhythms are lush and expansive and seem to breathe in the live setting.
The acoustic interlude is somber in structure and leads wonderfully into Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, taking its arrangement from the 1969 Led Zeppelin version. This song has been a mainstay of Plant’s live output since the UnLedded project with Jimmy Page, the Shape Shifters add a dramatic, almost Flamenco style interlude to the piece that for a minute, completely rearranges the song, the effects of a good grinding. Robert’s love of American Appalachian roots music is the inspiration for his arrangement of the song Little Maggie, Plant introduces it as being from “1920’s, just before the Yardbirds”. The group pays tribute to Blues Legend Bukka White with a rocking version of Fixin’ To Die, the song bares no resemblance to the original version nor the Led Zeppelin 1970 studio outtake, one of the real rockers of the night brings the house down. The encores consist of New World and a slightly grinded version of Whole Lotta Love.
There is bonus material to round off the second disc taken from the KAABOO festival in the Southern California town of Del Mar in September 2018. The recording is a professional source, sounds to be taken from a video broadcast with excellent sound quality. Save for Poor Howard, the material is all Led Zeppelin, fitting with the Blues theme of this release, The Lemon Song is the first number. The tempo is a bit faster than the Zeppelin version and is very hot, Plant does his best 2018 interpretation of 1969 and no lemons were squeezed in this version. Going To California is an obvious choice considering the location, the audience is low in the mix giving a rather indifferent feel to the song, Plant turns in a wonderful vocal, still inspired by the beauty of California. The final track is an epic workout of Whole Lotta Love with a cool Bring It On Home introduction and a snippet of the traditional folk shanty song Santianna played in the middle, paying homage to Southern California’s Spanish roots.
The tri gate-fold sleeve is adorned with photos of Robert, a picture of the ticket stub and an insert with liner notes describing the gig and is a typically nice looking cover. Another solo live Plant title I have really enjoyed and would suspect most Led Zeppelin collectors would as well, he travels down his own path and is playing some of the most inspired music in his career.