Robert Plant

Paul Wellman

Robert Plant

Review: Robert Plant at the Santa Barbara Bowl

The Sensational Space Shifters Backed Led Zeppelin’s Former Frontman

Beholding a legend in person is the realization of fantasy into reality. It’s validation that the subject of your imagination is a real person who has cohabited the same planet throughout your exponentially less significant existence. As the frontman for Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant was the kind of legend both shrouded in mysticism and revered as a rock god archetype. Surely, that’s a tough act to follow, even if that act is his former self.

Onstage Friday night with The Sensational Space Shifters, Plant was no longer the man with the exposed chest and embroidered bell-bottoms. Instead, he wore a sharp, black button-up, juxtaposing himself with his youthful counterpart on the poster overlooking the Bowl.

Plant clearly did not directly follow in his own footsteps either. Drawing from a selection of Zeppelin classics and solo hits — as well as a sprinkling of new songs, like “Tin Pan Valley” — he reimagined well-worn tunes into something old, new, borrowed, and blues-y. This fraction of his musical catalogue became a marriage of sounds ranging from trance beats to Mississippi Delta blues to the riti (single-string fiddle) of Gambian musician Juldeh Camara.

In one instance, the band eased into the traditional stylization of “Whole Lotta Love,” complete with the arena-piercing slide guitar and Plant’s characteristic high-pitched rasp, before mutating the song into a fiddle-centric jam spliced with fragments of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” Later, Plant jokingly referred to the band as the “Easy Sensational Soft Rock Shifters,” displaying the kind of self-awareness that keeps his show and his sound fresh all these years later.

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