Robert Plant & The Blind Boys Of Alabama – Vector Arena April 11, 2013

RP15

It must be both a blessing and a burden to have the legacy of a band like Led Zeppelin behind you. A blessing in that it enabled you to present your music to a huge audience and a burden in that that audience will often simply demand that you relive past glories. Robert Plant did a superb job of walking that fine line between satisfying his own musical curiosity while keeping the fans happy who wanted to revel in the majesty that was Led Zeppelin.

As Plant stated during his set, “I was infatuated with black culture”. He put his money where his mouth is by presenting The Blind Boys Of Alabama as the opening act on this leg of his tour. The Blind Boys have been a going concern in one form or another since 1939…with vocalist Jimmy Carter the sole member appearing tonight from the original group.

This could have gone horribly wrong…a group of ancient gospel singers singing to 10,000 Led Zeppelin fans. But the audience was extremely receptive and open, clapping and singing along with The Blind Boys as they performed celebratory version of songs like People Get Ready, Spirit In The Sky and Amazing Grace (sung to the tune of House Of The Rising Sun).

By the end of their 45-minute set, Carter was being led down to the floor of the Vector Arena and through the audience as he sang his heart out. The crowd loved it.

Then at approximately 9:20, an off-stage announcer, sounding very much like he was working at a wrestling bout rather than a concert, was heard proclaiming, “Our special guest tonight is one of the most celebrated musicians of all times…”

RP14Robert Plant and his 6-piece band took the stage and got down to business with Friends, a relatively obscure number from Led Zeppelin III. An acoustic guitar led the charge and then that familiar voice rang out through the room.

The assembled band is an eclectic bunch of musicians, most of who played on Plant’s 2005 album, Mighty ReArranger. They are: Justin Adams (guitar & mandolin), John Baggott (keyboards), Liam “Skin” Tyson (guitar), Billy Fuller (bass), Dave Smith (drums) and Juldeh Camara (ritti, koloso & talking drum). Camara is from Gambia, in West Africa and the ritti is a unique single stringed instrument while the koloso is a type of African banjo. It was his presence that really added a “WOMAD” vibe to the show.

Plant and his band then followed with two songs from Mighty ReArranger. Tin Pan Valley was built around Baggott’s tinkling keyboard and Adams’ slide guitar, but then broke in to an explosive roar, with Plant exhorting, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon”. At the end of the tune the singer was crouched down on the stage fanning smoke out to the audience the came from several incense sticking burning at his feet.

“Time to get moving, time to get started”, Plant declared as they slid into Another Tribe.

Plant then spoke at length for the first time, showing off his bent sense of humour as he apologized for taking so long to return to Auckland, claiming he had been pregnant, claiming to have been listening to the Blind Boys since 1939. He then introduced Howlin’ Wolf’s Spoonful.

But this wasn’t some tired attempt to recreate the blues of the 1950s, but rather a completely new take on the old song which I would describe as “space age blues”. There were bubbling synths, pounding guitar riffs and Plant’s inventive vocals. Eventually the tune took on a Middle Eastern flavour after a dazzling musical freak-out.

One might accuse Plant of being self-indulgent, forcing the audience to bear with him as he went off on his musical tangents, but I don’t think that is the case. Here is an artist who has had the opportunity to travel the world, exploring exotic sounds and rhythms and is excited to share them with (hopefully) like-minded folks. Fortunately the fans at the Vector were very receptive to what Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters were laying down.

Which doesn’t mean they weren’t up for some stomping Led Zeppelin moments.

Planted teased the crowd with semi-acoustic versions of Black Dog, Going To California, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp and Four Sticks before a wickedly-rocking Ramble On. After the song’s initial jazzy intro, Plant and the band really let loose with true rock & roll ferocity and the release of energy between the musicians and the audience was palpable. It was the highlight of the night and the audience got some excited many burst through the barriers in the front, trying to get closer to Plant and dance. It was a rough night for security.

Plant then recounted his love of the blues to the audience, and Bukka White in particular by playing his Fixin’ To Die before closing the set with a very bluesy Whole Lotta Love that also included bits of Willie Dixon’s Seventh Son and Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love.

When they returned for their encore, Plant commented on the “Draconian security” and joked, “I’m nearly 65 years old, I’m not gonna start a riot”. Perhaps he underestimates the power of his own music.

“But never mind, there’s still time for a bit of jazz and a beer”. And with that we were treated to a slinky version of What Is And What Should Never Be from Led Zeppelin II.

“ It’s so nice to be up so late!” he exclaimed in mock surprise before introducing  “a little English folk song”, or a sea shanty which we could “slap a bit of oil on and sing a good song”. And with that we all rocked out to a riotous version of Rock And Roll. It was rock and roll heaven, although there wasn’t a stairway in sight.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a gallery of concert photos taken by the esteemed Michael Flynn:

Robert Plant set list:

  1. Friends
  2. Tin Pan Valley
  3. Another Tribe
  4. Spoonful
  5. Black Dog
  6. Going To California
  7. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
  8. The Enchanter
  9. Four Sticks
  10. Ramble On
  11. Fixin’ To Die
  12. Whole Lotta Love
  13. What Is And What Should Never Be
  14. Rock And Roll

14 responses to “Robert Plant & The Blind Boys Of Alabama – Vector Arena April 11, 2013

  1. cosima

    No need to get nasty! Please remind me why were you at the Robert Plant show if you actually don’t like Robert Plant?

  2. David T (NZ)

    To all the people who bought tickets and knew in advance that they were allocated seats: keep your butts out of other peoples places and don’t stand up and obstruct other people’s views! And then moan afterwards about the conditions. I saw people in front of me try to steal the more expensive seats until they were bumped by the rightful arrivals and others who had no thought at all about the views of people behind them. In short, they were greedy, selfish, inconsiderate louts – both male and female (the latter being the worst!) who thought that the concert was just on for them and that they could please themselves. And then Plant, like an idiot, encouraged them to get up and add to the farce. Welcome to the world of “I am; F U”! If you want to dance, go to the back, not the front.

    • cosima

      To David T:

      Mate! Looks like you bought a ticket to the wrong show! :-)
      I recommend you go to an Andre Rieu one next time…

      • DavidT

        It sounds like you were one of the louts so who would listen to any of your recommendtions, let alone follow them! You probably have a bootleg collection of Plant’s music, too. Stay home next time.

  3. cosima

    Yes, great show the Robert Plant one!!!!
    Quite sad that security had no insight on what a Robert Plant show would be like and didn’t handle public enthusiasm for the singer and band very well. Quite the opposite.
    I’m looking for a place on the Vector Arena site where I could launch a complaint for the way I was treated by the security “forces” of the evening. Yes, they do have a job to do, we all understand that but it got in the way on everybody enjoying themselves that evening. For the boss of the security team to say “they are still learning the ropes”…seems a bit funny as they’ve had thousands of shows under their belt by now. I’m not buying any of his explanations!

    I’m still having nightmares due to the way I was treated at this concert and some bruises on one of my arms and a strong feeling that my sense of personal freedom had been assaulted on the night.
    I will most certainly avoid coming for a show at the Vector arena and will warn all my friends about the way I was treated there so they know what they expect.
    For the future, I suggest you warn people that they have to be bound to their seats as not to disturb the quiet, not very enthusiastic rest of the audience who’s payed 30 $ more for the respective show.

    I’d hate to think what impression Robert Plant went away with. He’s a great singer and entertainer and it was simply the magnetism of his presence and music that pulled many of us out of our seats and down on the floor willing to share our joy and happiness. I thought it was all about peace and love. The vector arena security convinced me that it was all about money!

  4. Fenderboy

    Heres Robert on the “draconian security”

  5. Sue

    I had the perfect spot just a few rows from the front and was standing up and dancing most of the night. It’s been 41 years since I last saw him here and I was determined to make this my own mini-Led Zep concert and revelled in the moment. I wanted to dance much harder than I coul being constrined to the seated row I was in. Any attempt to go in the aisles or up the front was stifled by the Vector arena nasties who call us a “fire hazard” The sooner they rip up all the seats for these shows the better. Let the dull ones sit upstairs and the ragers can dance out anywhere they feel like downfront, like they do at the young folks gigs. Those Blind boys were cool, like an original boy band all grown up!!!

  6. David Thompson (Auckland, NZ)

    Vector Arena (Auckland, NZ – 11/4/2013): Superb show. Simply brilliant. Everything wanted and more. Robert Plant and the absolutely Sensational Shape Shifters delivered in truck loads! A history of Rock and Blues with bits of jazziness and african rhythms thrown in – pity it couldn’t have been put in a time capsule! Plus some warming up from the legendary Blind Boys of Alabama ……. If only every concert was that good!

  7. bazrocker

    yes,equally here(Rod Laver Arena,Melbourne) it was a great show!similar set list rock n roll was the last song…truly mesmerizing.

  8. melanie parish

    hi there,
    would it be possible to purchase any of the great Robert plant photos please ?

  9. Thanks for the cool photos. Glad it was as good as the Welly show which was spectacular. AND there was no seating downstairs so punters could groove and sing to their hearts content. A show I could easily see again, right now. I want to thank you

  10. Chris

    Yes great show indeed … thank you

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