Awesome does not begin to describe Sunday’s headliner at the 26th Annual Waterfront Blues Festival – Robert Plant Presents the Sensational Space Shifters. We felt privileged to welcome a legendary icon to our city.
The band opened with “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” The quality of Plant’s voice at age 65 is remarkable, sounding like it did back in his Led Zeppelin days. No wonder Rolling Stone readers voted him the best lead singer of all time. Moreover, his charisma is inviting and he has a wonderfully effective talent for engaging the audience in a friendly, amiable manner. He made us feel at home.
The Sensational Space Shifters include members hailing from Africa and England. It was interesting to hear the creative fusing of African world music, English trip hop and Mississippi blues, with such a versatile lead singer who has experimented with various genres over the years.
Familiar tunes like “In the Mood,” “Goin’ to California,” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” captivated the crowd and provided a nice sing-a-long opportunity.
A trippy, bluesy version of “Black Dog” animated the audience. John Baggot from Massive Attack and Portishead brought his trippy trance sound to the rock classic. The song accelerated with tribal beats, and a touch of Celtic could be detected, thanks to Gambian fiddler Juldeh Camara.
Music ranged from knee-slapping Memphis sounds to an international flavor. But the most gratifying aspect is that it rocked. Though some of the Zeppelin tunes were reworked, heads were banging.
“Whole Lotta Love” energized the sea of fans. In the middle of the song, Plant switched to Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love,” then back to “Whole Lotta Love,” Zeppelin-style. Plant amused the crowd by singing “Baby’s gotta get it. Daddy’s gotta get it. Granddaddy’s gotta get it too.”
For their final number, Plant said they would do a song that came to America on the Mayflower. Naturally, we expected an old folk tune. We were pleasantly surprised to hear “Rock and Roll.”