Before he conquers his headlining stint on this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest, the legendary Robert
Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters had Sydney’s State Theatre spellbound on Friday night.
Rather than a nostalgia tour bursting with predictable crowd pleasers, the original Golden God
and his band of disciples executed a rich and varied set list. Representative of a prolific career spanning over five decades, they explored genres ranging from rock n roll to blues and roots including some newer tunes, a couple of covers and a few rare Led Zeppelin gems.
The sixtet is also set to play the Sydney Opera House next week. But among the ornate interiors
and crystal chandeliers, the sold out State Theatre was the perfect venue for this magical and
The evening opened with British folk singer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Seth
Lakeman. Despite starting with a few polite claps from the crowd, the charismatic crooner had
everyone singing along with him by the end of his 30 minute set.
As the house lights went down and the crowd erupted in anticipation, the former Zeppelin front
man and his five-piece band emerged in a sea of green light. Plant eased into the set with ‘New
World…’, a track from his 2017 record Carry Fire. Dressed head to toe in black and with his wiry, grey hair pulled into a low bun, he was an intense and statuesque sight to behold. When
he wasn’t at the mic, the now 69 year old was rattling a tambourine or boogying around the stage with his signature hip wiggle.
I’m not sure if it was the venue, the demographic of the ticket holders or Sydney sticking to its
reputation as the capital of the Nanny State, but it was a relatively well-behaved and timid
crowd who mostly kept to their seats for the majority of the show. And even Plant seemed to
notice. “Are you enjoying your comfortable seats? Weird people,” he laughed.
On ‘Turn It Up’, bandmate Justin Adams nailed a warbling guitar solo, while Seth Lakeman
returned to the stage to lend his talents on the violin for tracks like ‘The May Queen’. Almost
the entire band were armed with Moroccan hand drums for ‘Rainbow’ which, when combined with Plant’s crooning vocals, created a bone-rattling sonic force.
The crowd roared at the familiar sound of the opening guitar riff in ‘That’s The Way’, being the
first Led Zeppelin song of the night. It was on tunes like these that Plant really flexed his vocal gift, proving his pipes have barely aged. If you closed your eyes, you may have believed no time had past and you were back in Zeppelin’s golden era of the 70s.
After appeasing the crowd with a fan favourite, Plant moved on to the beautiful, acoustic jam
‘All the King’s Horses’ from 2006’s Mighty Rearranger record and a lovely rendition of his and
Alison Krauss’ track ‘Please Read The Letter’. On the latter, Lakeman returned to the stage with
his violin and Plant watched with glee as he and guitarist Skin Tyson engaged in a heated string
Plant didn’t interact with the crowd too much throughout the show, but when he did, he responded with the quick quips and sass that you’d expect from a cheeky, old uncle. “Steady!” He said with false seriousness after one rowdy punter let out a wild woop between songs. “You’re gonna have to get involved for this one,” he commanded before busting into Led Zeppelin’s Leadbelly-inspired, bluesy murder ballad ‘Gallows Pole’. As Tyson’s fingers danced furiously over the strings of his banjo, the crowd clapped along with as much gusto as they could muster. Now that the fans were well and truly awake, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ was welcomed with another deafening cheer. And for good reason. As Plant’s harrowing vocals echoed eerily through the theatre, it was easily one of the standouts of the night.
Although Plant was the undeniable drawcard, the multi-talented Sensational Space Shifters almost stole the show. “We’re like a supergroup. Not like Take That, though. We’re fuck that, take this!” laughed Plant after he introduced the band. “I don’t know where that came from,” he added with a cheeky shrug.
As Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters closed out the first part of the show with Zeppelin
hit ‘Misty Mountain Hop’, they were silhouetted by a backdrop of grainy video footage from protests and music festivals from (what looked like) the 70s. And when they returned for the encore, Plant whipped out his harmonica to play a few bars on a stellar cover of Canned Heat’s
‘On The Road Again’.
Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters wrapped up the night perfectly with a psychedelic mash up of ‘Bring It On’, ‘Santianna’ and Led Zeppelin’s monster hit ‘Whole Lotta Love’. By this
point, the crowd had finally let loose and most people ditched their seats or swarmed the aisles
to get closer to the stage. Well, all except one gentlemen who was catching a few z’s in the
front row. “I love an attentive audience,” Plant said, pointing him out and breaking into his familiar wry grin. And with that, the iconic Robert Plant took a final bow and left the rest of us in awe.
Photos: Maria Boydagis