Belfast Telegraph

Robert Plant shows he's still got a Whole Lotta Love for music with classy display

By Chris Jones

Forty-three years - that's how long it has been since Led Zeppelin performed Stairway To Heaven for the first time, here in the Ulster Hall.

After all that time, here was Robert Plant back on that same stage. His signature mane was tamed in a bun and his face heavily bearded, but there was no mistaking one of the great voices in rock and roll, even if he did occasionally sound all of his 65 years.

Not that age appears to bother him - his wry comment that he is trying to show that "there's something new coming around the corner, even from someone who gets heating allowance" was proof of that.

Plant and the Ulster Hall may have an illustrious history together, but last night's show was no nostalgia trip. Still doggedly refusing to get Led Zeppelin back together, much to his bandmates' dismay (they reportedly went so far as to consider alternative singers to Plant, including Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, before the project was mercifully abandoned), Plant was here with his latest backing band The Sensational Shape Shifters to promote current album Lullaby And...The Ceaseless Roar, which was released in September. It's the latest in a series of very well received Plant albums over the past decade, following the Grammy-winning Raising Sand with Alison Krauss and 2010's Band Of Joy.

It would be easy for Plant to settle into complacent irrelevance, or to retire altogether, but his recent work is that of a man still consumed by the creative muse, drawing on blues, Americana, West African traditional music and electronica. Thus his band includes Juldeh Camara, a player of the single-string riti instrument from Senegal and The Gambia.

It all made for an intoxicating sonic stew in a set that included a bit of everything - a goodly portion of the latest album, a smattering of songs from Plant's solo career, some blues standards and - yes - a couple of Led Zeppelin classics though, sadly, no Stairway. Going To California was as delicate and mystical as the recorded version, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, Rock and Roll and especially Whole Lotta Love really ripped and elicited a response bordering on hysterical from the capacity crowd.

New songs too were given a makeover, most notably an electrifying Turn It Up, its heavy guitar grooves drawn out for maximum effect while recent single Rainbow was plaintive and lovely.

Throughout Plant was an engaging host, sparring with the crowd and strutting around the stage in time honoured fashion -just like he must have done on the same stage 43 years ago.

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