Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters CityFolk Festival, Ottawa ON, September 15
Published Sep 16, 2019Before Robert Plant took the stage to close off Ottawa's four-day CityFolk Festival, the former Led Zeppelin frontman asked security to make an announcement: "It's okay to take photos and video, but keep it to a minimum so you can connect with the performance." It was this simple message that proved that Plant wanted to deliver more than just an evening filled with simple nostalgia and stargazing.
After airing a powerful and well-received video featuring teenage Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg speaking before a 2018 climate change summit, Plant entered the stage along with his six-piece band, the Sensational Space Shifters, looking youthful and iconic in his black leather pants and trademark blonde mane.
Opening with a straightforward rendition of "What Is and What Should Never Be," the 71-year old vocalist nonetheless pitched the Led Zeppelin II classic down a key to match his current range. Moving into "Turn it Up" from his 2014 solo LP Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar and "The May Queen" from his latest LP, Carry Fire, Plant led his band through a deconstructed version of Led Zeppelin IV's "Black Dog" that relied heavily on frequent Jack White collaborator Lillie Mae's Celtic fiddle.
Leading his band through tracks from his latest two LPs, Plant implored the audience to sing and clap along to stripped-down versions of "The Battle of Evermore" (on which he sung both his and Sandy Denny's vocal parts) and Zeppelin's rendition of Joan Baez's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" that featured an extended classical guitar intro from Liam "Skin" Tyson, formerly from the Britpop band Cast.
Closing off the set with Bukka White's 1940 song "Fixin' to Die Blues" — which found the vocalist joyfully dancing along to the track's electronic beat — and the Led Zeppelin III version of 19th century folk song "Gallows Pole," Plant enthusiastically introduced each his bandmates, which spurred customary solos from each member.
Returning to the stage to perform his sleek 1983 Top 40 hit "In the Mood," Plant thanked the crowd for their enthusiasm before ending off with a tempered-but-joyous version of the Zeppelin classic "Ramble On" that found festivalgoers trying to follow along to the track's augmented arrangement. As his band came to the front of the stage to take a bow, it was clear that Robert Plant isn't interested in recreating his fabled past for the CityFolk audience — he's more interested in putting on an absorbing, enthralling "Robert Plant" show, and it turns out he's pretty damn good at doing just that.