Prove your humanity

@ The Sage Gateshead, October 20 2010

The Sage, so naturally serene and perfectly pristine, really shouldn’t welcome with open arms the man responsible for so many raucous nights of 70s rock n roll.

The juxtaposition of the two could have made for a strangely uncomfortable evening and yet Robert Plant is no longer a hellraising wild man beloved of heavy rhythms and piercing riffs. In 2010 the former Led Zeppellin singer is a perfect fit for a venue with the accent on superior sound and concert-going comfort. His musical makeover demands as much.

Plant left behind the sweaty clubs, rock excess and ear-piercing howls of the Zeppelin days many years ago. Looking back, even the band’s recent London reunion now seems decidedly half-hearted because this is where his passion truly lies 40 years after Led Zeppelin III, with the classics Immigrant Song and Gallows Pole, confirmed the belief that a good band had become great.

Plant is now part folk rocker, part country crooner. But the blues are still prominent and the unique pitch still so endearing. At times only the long mop and grizzled features betray the singer’s celebrated past: there’s a reason he’s concentrating his focus on the present and the future.

With the revelation that was Raising Sand still the toast of music critics and fans the world over it seemed impossible Plant could repeat the trick. With Band Of Joy he hasn’t repeated that Alison Krauss collaboration as such – rather delivered a sequel equally rich in musical variation but distinctive in its bombastic feel.

Both records were treated with due respect by a band of hand-picked specialists more than capable of adding layer upon layer of raw emotion to songs you thought you knew but never really did. Please Read The Letter was an obvious highlight with Patty Griffin’s performance a joy to behold. The red head cut a stirring figure to the left of Plant and if the idea was to divert full attention from the main man then it worked.

Of the Band Of Joy tracks showcased here House Of Cards and Central Two-O-Nine oozed cool confidence with every individual contributing to both with understated brilliance. The former will be regarded as a Plant classic in years to come – right now it’s another example of why this enduring artist remains so current.

Griffin continued to mesmerise. Her vocals on 12 Gates To The City were nothing short of sensational but some would say she saved the best until last with a fantastic, focused, fond farewell.

Plant knows how to pick ‘em. Cohorts and classics. If you’re partial to Zeppelin then Gallows Pole 2010 might not evoke memories of the song’s sonically charged past but it still knocks spots off almost any other modern rock you’ll hear these days. Genuinely powerful, it brought the main body of a memorable set to a thrilling climax. And reminded everyone present that this really was a night for hailing true rock royalty – for all his latter day nuances.

Simon Rushworth