Not Just Nostalgia

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, Cityfolk 2019, photo by Scott Penner 

Led Zeppelin is dead. Robert Plant rocks on.

Sunday night at Cityfolk the former Zepp vocalist performed a delicate balancing act, giving the fans the old songs from the seventies that they craved while showcasing his newer material.

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Robert Plant, Cityfolk 2019, photo by Sean Sisk

Songs like “The May Queen” and the title track to his latest work, “Carry Fire,” were blended in with Zeppelin classics such as “Gallows Pole,” “Black Dog” and the “Battle of Evermore.”

For an artist who’s been around 50 years, it must be a struggle to convince the fans weaned on your classics to listen to your new tunes.  So many of Plant’s contemporaries have settled for touring a greatest hits package, giving the fans what they want.

Under a clear sky before an adoring audience, Plant showcased his powerful vocal abilities. He no longer has the high range he had in the early seventies – but he doesn’t need it. The older songs have been rearranged so that he can sing them rather than scream them. If anything, the songs have more power today than they did in their heyday.

His backup band, the Sensational Space Shifters, were, as you would expect, superb musicians, each being given the opportunity to showcase their talents. Given that Cityfolk is, at its heart, a folk music festival, it was nice to hear lots of acoustic guitar – I was wondering if Plant chose the set list with that in mind.

With more than half a century of recorded product to draw on for a 90-minute set, it is inevitable that someone’s favorite will be missed. The audience though, as least where I was standing, was very respectful. I didn’t hear anyone calling out song suggestions. The Led Zeppelin tunes received the most applause, but people seemed to be content to trust Plant to play what he felt most appropriate to the evening. He responded by delivering a memorable show that sent the crowd away satiated, even if they didn’t get to hear their favorite songs.

Led Zeppelin fans might be still reeling that neither “Whole Lotta Love” or “Stairway to Heaven” made it into the show. And yes, it would have been nice to hear one or both – but they weren’t necessary to make it a great evening.

The two encores, 1983’s “In The Mood” and 1969’s “Ramble On,” were not what I would have chosen if I had been making up the set list – but somehow at the time they seemed perfect, sending the crowd home satisfied.

For Cityfolk it must have been a triumphant ending to four days of great weather and great music. When I was on site the sound was great, the people well behaved – everything seemed to be running smoothly. What more could you ask?

Robert Plant, Cityfolk 2019, photo by Sean Sisk

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