For a guy who long ago achieved global domination via rock ‘n’ roll, Robert Plant’s obsession with American roots music is sort of sweetly adorable.
During his show Monday night at Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend, Plant’s between-song banter included multiple references to his home country “over there” (i.e. England), to music that came to America on ships, to murder ballads and Mississippi Delta blues, plus Charlie Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, black culture moving north to Chicago and more. Before diving into “Little Maggie,” the first song on his 2014 album “Lullaby… and The Ceaseless Roar,” he acknowledged its deep roots in traditional Appalachian music. Introducing a bluesy song later in the show, he offered this disclaimer: “Here’s a song I have no responsibility for.” Then he played “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” a song Led Zeppelin adapted from early 20th century bluesman Blind Willie Johnson on its 1976 album “Presence.”
But it was the songs that Plant is undeniably responsible for — songs he is intrinsically connected to, forever and beyond — that made Monday’s show special. “Lullaby” is a good record and Plant has been touring with his current band the Sensational Space Shifters for three years, but a quick scan around the Schwab showed folks were there primarily to hear Led Zeppelin songs, and Plant did not disappoint them. He sprinkled his 90ish-minute set with both folksy deep cuts (“Black Country Woman,” the banjo-powered “Going to California”) and some of his old band’s most popular, muscular songs, like “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love,” whose iconic guitar riff roared to life under a gorgeous High Desert dusk sky. It was one of the highlights of the night.
Otherwise, Plant and his band played a few songs from his post-Zep career, including the beautiful, gospel-tinged “Rainbow,” complete with a fleet of African hand drums; “Turn It Up,” which stomps along to a thunderous drumbeat; and a cover of Willie Dixon’s blues staple “Spoonful,” which Plant retrofitted with a glitchy, bloopy synthesizer part that showcased just how musically omnivorous a 66-year-old rock ‘n’ roll god can be.
Still, when you go see Robert Plant perform in 2015, you must know that you’re going to be surrounded by folks in Led Zeppelin T-shirts who are going to stand and cheer and dance at the first sign of a song embedded in the soundtrack of their lives. That was the scene Monday night in Bend, where Plant and his band gave the people a healthy dose of nostalgia, while sneaking in a bit of his current interests as well.