Live Review: Robert Plant and The Sensational Shape Shifters - Sydney Entertainment Centre (28.03.13)

Robert Plant

When our tickets were scanned at the doors of the Entertainment Centre, it felt as though we’d been gifted with an express pass back to the golden age of rock. Setting our eyes upon the stage, the pants were looser, the torso covered, his somewhat greying locks still yet to be tamed. This was the voice of a generation: Robert Plant live and in the flesh.

Having swaggered onto the stage as only Mr. Plant could, the singer eased the crowd into his set with “Tin Pan Valley” from his 2005 studio album, Mighty ReArranger. It built perfectly into a deafening wall of hazy guitars while smoky red lighting flooded the stage.

After a quick follow up with “Another Tribe” from the same album, Plant was free to roam his own choice selections from the Led Zeppelin back catalogue. “Friends”, “Going To California” and “Black Dog” all made the cut early, despite the latter not receiving the screeching Janis Joplin-esque treatment we envisioned. In fact, Plant seemed to relish placing his own spin on a majority of the night’s setlist (like playing a game of “spot the tune” he joked). And why shouldn’t he? The Sensational Space Shifters ooze a divine mixture of the roots music of Mississippi and the tribal sounds of Gambia, with Plant bringing his own proggy psychedelic Zeppelin flavour to the proceedings. Either way, everyone on stage was feelin’ it.

Admittedly, the tribal jazz fusions were far from what we were expecting; those in search of Led Zeppelin cranking out the Celebration Day hits stumbled upon something new entirely. The diehards clung to the classics they’ve always loved and casual listeners were left feeling one toke short of the cosmic bubble Plant and the Shape Shifters were floating in. Most impressively the rocker’s iconic wail held up. And what a wail it was. Regardless of which camp you found yourself in, the realisation soon set in that you were seeing Robert bloody Plant in his element.

Interspersed in the mix was a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” and it rightfully showcased Plant’s ability to tear the roof off the place with only his voice. We’d been transported back to the man’s own trippy, drug-fuelled heyday, the one he owned and famously roamed.

Mandolins, African banjos, one-stringed violins and traditional African drums were par for the course, as was the stellar guitar work of Justin Adams and Liam “Skin” Tyson, particularly when it crept in on fan favourite “Whole Lotta Love”.

Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters were certainly engaged with the faithful, and in amongst their sincere thank yous and adieus, Plant let slip a “See you next year!” pricking the ears of more than a few eager punters. A full scale Zeppelin show in 2014? Yes please.