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Legendary singer Robert Plant dazzles

Sharlene Celeskey, Contemporary Culture Editor, Puma Press, PVCC

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Sharlene Celeskey

Robert Plant performs at the Vegas Brooklyn Bowl on May 28.

Am I mad to go to loathsome Vegas? Is the turbulence I feel as the plane ascends to the heavens a symbol of what awaits me in the desert gambling capital?

Although Las Vegas is close to Phoenix I managed to avoid it until now. Flying through the clouds to see one of the most esteemed rock singers of all time, I recall missing his shows three times with today almost being a fourth. (Had to reschedule my flight when I failed to bring my concert ticket to the airport.) What is up with missing Robert Plant’s concert? Will I ever get to see the self proclaimed “Golden God” of rock?

Opportunities arise when Plant’s summer tour is announced. He is playing a mid-sized club in Las Vegas. I never desired to travel to the city of gambling, bright lights and low culture but how terrific to hear him in an intimate setting. I decided to go also to Plant’s show at Los Angeles’ legendary Greek Theatre since this is a gem among venues. His tour supports his 2014 album “lullaby and …The Ceaseless Roar.” It includes American folk songs, world beat music, rock songs and ballads. His six-piece band The Sensational Space Shifters, who have been with him for three years, will support him.

Robert Plant received legendary status as the singer and lyricist of Led Zeppelin. Called the greatest and best band of all time, Britain’s Led Zeppelin ruled the 1970s, the age of the super bands. After Plant’s friend, drummer John Bonham, died of an alcoholic overdose Zeppelin disbanded in December 1980. By ‘82 Plant had reinvented himself and released his first solo album. Plant has continuously put out new music, and his catalogue of songs is a myriad of kaleidoscopic musical styles. He continuously moves forward by exploring a variety of music and incorporating contemporary sounds.

Loathing Las Vegas

As the plane descends and touches down on the city of wasted energy, I grow excited about the concert. I do not set the expectation bar high since this is no longer a concert but a quest.

Vegas is just as vile as I envisioned. The stench of smoke fills every hotel casino no matter how expensive its facade. The annoying blinking colored lights on slot machines call out, “See me, try me, and play me.”

The midsize two-story club holds an audience of about 2,000. When I enter, I silently scream in amazement at how small the standing area in front of the stage is. Next, I see the bowling lanes on the left. The dance floor is already filling up, so I carefully maneuver towards the front. The laid back crowd includes teens to retirees with most over 40. Some are Led Zeppelin fans; others Robert Plant, but many are both. I stand up front and feel lucky to be in such a prime spot to take photos and to see the rock legend so close.

Opener J.D. McPherson easily wins the crowd over with his updated rockabilly and rhythm and blues songs. Anticipation runs high, but as we wait for the remarkable vocalist to make his entrance. The positive energy is marred by an aging fool who bumps into everyone as he dances, despite protests from those around him.

Robert Plant and Bowling, too

Suddenly, the club becomes a sea of darkness and as I turn towards the stage a jolt of excitement surges through the club. I hear movement on the small stage as faint shadow figures enter with their musical instruments and find their places. The lights slowly come alive with color and reveal the Sensational Space Shifters. As they play the intro of Led Zeppelin’s, “Wanton Song,” the crowd releases pent up excitement with screams and claps. Once the stage becomes fully lit, the iconic Robert Plant in a gray satin shirt strolls out to an awestruck crowd.

Immediately the singer launches into Zeppelin’s classic song. Damn he sings fantastic, even better than his recent videos. Tonight’s sound is enhanced by the pristine sound system at the Brooklyn Bowl. Being close, I see the interplay between the artist and band and feel their warm comradery. After five decades of performing Plant still loves his job. When he talks about the songs and jokes with the audience I observe his natural charm first hand. I notice the 66-year-old’s famous blonde curls are now twined with gray but his spirit remains young. He alternates his set list with new songs: “Turn It Up,” “Rainbow,” and “Little Maggie,” and Zeppelin hits: “Black Dog,” “The Lemon Song,” and “What is and what should never be.” He also performs songs by American blues artists, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon.

Plant cleverly takes his ‘70s classics and reworks them to sound more contemporary and to fit his evolving voice. Throughout the set, I struggle between concentrating on the show and shooting the perfect photo. As Plant begins the ballad “Going to California,” he yells out twice to put down our phones and listen. I stand here with a smile on my face as I experience this wonderful show. Snapped back into reality when the crowd yells, I see Plant exit. I am back in a Vegas venue with a bowling alley where I never hear the clashing of pins or banging of bowling balls.

I join the screaming crowd begging for more, and the band reappears for a two-song encore. Plant introduces the last song with a false tale of its inspiration. When he asks if we believe him and the audience shouts, “No.” He replies, “F**K You,” and immediately apologizes, appearing genuinely shocked at his response. Then he launches into one of Zeppelin’s most hard rocking songs, “Rock and Roll.” And Plant and band sure did. As I leave the club elated, I hear only positive comments from concertgoers.

I barely leave Vegas when I drive to Los Angeles for the second Plant concert. Feeling victorious that I conquered the “Missed Robert Plant syndrome,” I look forward to the show in the city of angels.

Enjoying City of Angeles

Warned to go early to the Greek Theatre to avoid a parking nightmare, I enter lush Griffith Park two hours early and park extremely close. Nestled in the trees, it is so heavenly outside the Greek Theatre, I enjoy the wait.

The marquee proclaims “ROBERT PLANT.” How perfect that the self-proclaimed golden rock god is performing here. How fitting that this landmark amphitheater has a Greek temple backdrop behind the stage.

The Greek holds almost 6,000 people, and every seat has a great view. I find the audience demographics are the same as Vegas. This is a serene crowd with the exception of an over zealous Plant fan that serenades us in the restroom with Zeppelin songs while loudly declaring her undying love for Plant.

Opener J.D. McPherson plays on a vast stage and whips the crowd into a rock mood. Tonight I feel excited but not anxious. I sit too far away to get great photos so I relax and use my camera sporadically.

Robert Plant in a Greek Temple

When the sun goes down the glittering lights go on and illuminate the dark stage. Music begins and we all spring to life. Plant physically stands out in a bright emerald green satin shirt. When he sings “Wanton Song,” his voice is dynamic and the sound from the stage is clear and booming. Tonight Plant sounds larger than life.

He sings the same songs but not the same way. He is on fire and his band intensifies their playing to keep up with him. This is not the same intimate show I just witnessed. As he sings the Zeppelin tunes, I hear and see the rock god come forth, a role he seems very comfortable in. Always a passionate singer he is more dramatic tonight with his unsurpassable voice.

When he speaks to the crowd, his charisma radiates from the stage. The complex light show creates a more spectacular concert as the music roars through the entire outdoors. The crowd is enthralled by how magnificent his performance is. When the set ends, thundering cries for an encore are deafening. When Plant closes the show with “Rock and Roll,” I hear the legendary Zeppelin Plant. In Vegas I saw Plant the artist and tonight I see Plant the rock god.

Last stop before heading home is the original Barney’s Beanery, a greasy spoon loaded with rock and roll memories, photos and classic tunes from the jukebox. I walk into a restroom stall and see a poster of a young Robert Plant in Technicolor hanging on the inside door. Although he may now look more Odin than Thor, I still find the immortal Plant in Los Angeles in Barney’s restroom.


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