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Concert Reviews:
Robert Plant makes up for lost time at rescheduled Meadow Brook show

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Friday, September 11, 2015

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- Robert Plant may not want to be in Led Zeppelin anymore. But he sure doesn't mind playing its songs.

A full half of Plant's 14-song set with his aptly named Sensational Space Shifters band Thursday night, Sept. 10, at the Meadow Brook Music Festival -- making up for a June 9 date postponed due to Plant's vocal problems at the time -- came from the Led Zeppelin catalog, along with a snippet of an eighth ("Dazed and Confused") and several blues covers that are certainly part of Zep's source material. But this was no mere tribute act; in the hands of the facile Shape Shifters, the arrangements incorporated flavors from the Mississippi Delta to the west of Africa, freshening and enlivening some very familiar material.

Given how iconic much of the Zep canon is, there was every chance Plant and company could fall on their collective faces in trying to reinvent these songs. That they were able to give them a fresh coat of sonic paint and trimming AND sell it to an exuberant Meadow Brook crowd was a testament to how well the group tapped into the elastic structures of the original versions and found just the right places to insert counterpoints, new rhythms, extended improvisations and sometimes exotic instrumentation without losing the integrity -- or the recognizability -- of the songs.

The opening "Trampled Under Foot," for instance, blasted off at its usual gallop but shifted into a mid-song departure driven by guitarist Justin Adams' Chic-like groove. "Black Dog" rode a slower, vibey gait that built into a lengthy jam blending Celtic and Arab stylings, while Plant crooned "The Rain Song" like Sinatra in his prime. A hard-hitting treatment of Howlin' Wolf's "No Place To Go" slid easily into "Dazed and Confused," while "Whole Lotta Love" was framed by Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You" and Bo Diddley's "Mona."

And Plant dedicated a psychedelic blues treatment of "The Lemon Song" to Detroit native Jack White.

Plant and the Shape Shifters dug into their 2014 studio set "Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar," too, making hey with originals such as the hypnotic "Turn It Up" and the trippy "Rainbow" as well as the troupe's adaptations of the traditional "Little Maggie" and Lead Belly's "Po' Howard," augmenting them with the feral tones of instruments such as kologo, ritti, bendirs and tehardant.

The 67-year-old Plant, more wise (but still potent) sage than Golden God these days, acknowledged the show's postponement several times during the night, declaring early that "the Sensational Shape shifters have landed...a little bit late" and later joking that it was an orthopedist who saw him in June and recommended he rest his voice. But he also expressed gratitude to the fans for coming back for the rescheduled date and noted that it was the first in the final leg of three years of touring for the Shape Shifters -- though Thursday's performance, ending with Led Zep's "Rock and Roll" -- left anyone there hoping that it won't be long before we see them again.

Detroit's Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas opened the evening with its own spirited and idiosyncratic set, rocking hard and seemingly unfazed by the occasion. Hernandez did, however, point out that she was playing her father's old guitar, and that back in his youth he fantasized about opening for Led Zeppelin. "I beat ya to it," she said with a huge smile as her parents cheered from their seats in the pavilion.

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