By Peter Mongillo
Editor’s note: This article was originally published June 24, 2013
“The Austin experience is something I didn’t expect to happen to me at this point in my life,” Robert Plant said near the end of his set Sunday night at ACL Live. “I really love it.”
The Led Zeppelin front man, making his second appearance in Austin since December, played a nearly two-hour set with his Sensational Space Shifters, a new band (that included members of his Strange Sensation band) equipped for a night mostly consisting of songs from his old band — some faithful to the original forms and others reinvented with traditional African instrumentation or noisy electronica.
After an opening set from Louisiana-based Lil’ Band O’ Gold, Plant and his six-person band, announced via a thick haze of incense from the front of the stage, droned their way into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” which found Plant in fine vocal shape and was followed by a deafening round of applause. “In The Mood” followed, with sweet, singing guitar and piano; the foreboding “Tin Pan Valley” again found Plant’s voice shining.
Plant’s two appearances alongside Patty Griffin at the Continental Club in December were more intimate, acoustic affairs (part of the proceeds from those shows went to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians; on Sunday half went to HAAM and the other half to Teen Cancer America). Sunday was a much different set, with thick rock and roll giving way more experimental bits. On “Spoonful” it was a pulsing dystopic vision of the blues, with Gambian musician Juldeh Camara joining the band.
Camara split “Black Dog” in half on the kologo (African banjo); elsewhere Plant led a packed theater in a call and response of “Ah ahhs.” A stripped-down guitar, mandolin and keyboard setup presented “Going to California,” which prompted a wild declaration of “I Love You Robert!” from the balcony.
Before a stretched out “Please Read the Letter,” Plant explained that he usually performed the song with a female vocalist. “Funny In My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixin’ To Die)” – a song Plant explained has been “hitting him” since he was fourteen – charged forward with a mad guitar solo from Justin Adams. Then, on to “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” and a bubbling, then raging “Whole Lotta Love,” which included a detour into “Who Do You Love?”
The band returned for a two-song encore of “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” (a “Sunday song,” Plant said) and a loud, noisy “Rock and Roll,” with a wall of fuzz led by keyboardist John Baggot (who has worked with Massive Attack and Portishead in addition to Plant). It was yet another interpretation of Plant’s music during a night of old and new.
Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
In The Mood
Tin Pan Valley
Going to California
Please Read the Letter
Fixing to Die
Whole Lotta Love
Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down
Rock and Roll