Robert Plant Weaves the Old With the New at L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre

Though it’s been nearly forty years since the end of legendary band Led Zeppelin, singer and rock icon Robert Plant is still going strong, as evidenced by his recent show with his band the Sensational Space Shifters on Friday, March 2 at Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the last stop on Plant’s current U.S. tour in support of his latest album “Carry Fire.”

While many of his contemporaries find it all too easy to play setlists comprised of their greatest hits, Plant continues to create new music while reimagining familiar tunes within a new context. It is his deep love of music, spanning several genres and cultures, which becomes readily apparent live, manifesting in his constant movement to the eclectic, electric groove happening on stage; if he’s not rhythmically slapping his chest with his tambourine, he’s waving his arms as if conducting a symphony, grabbing the mic stand and striking a classic rock star pose or else joyfully clapping and urging the crowd to join him.

He kicked off the show at the Orpheum with the spirited anthem “New World,” a track from “Carry Fire,” featuring a bouncy marching beat and a reverb/echo-laden guitar line. This song also proves politically relevant, as Plant sings, “Out here the immigrant takes hold / Across the planes and over mountains / Put flight to all who came before / They’re barely human / It’s time to move them / And let them kneel before the sword.”

Plant followed up “New World” with “Turn it Up,” from 2014’s album ‘Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar,” a song with a pulsing, syncopated beat that features a wickedly grungy guitar riff in the chorus, matching Plant’s equally serpentine vocal line.

From here, Plant and his talented band broke into the romping rock-folk ballad “The May Queen” (also from “Carry Fire”) followed by the hypnotically exotic tune “Rainbow,” where Plant sings such poetic lines as, “I’m reachin’ for the stars in the sky above / Oh, I will bring their beauty home.”

When Plant dug back to 1983’s album “Principle Moments” to offer the super harmonic song “In the Mood,” in which he sang, “I can make you sing, I can make you dance,” he became the veritable Pied Piper himself, leading the captive audience into melodic bliss.

Plant’s set list included a healthy sampling of covers performed with as much passion as his originals, as the legend showed his love for various styles.

He performed songs such as the soulful ballad “Please Read the Letter,” which he wrote in Nashville with blue-grass country singer Alison Krauss, the traditional blues tune “Gallows Pole,” first popularized by New Orleans blues legend Leadbelly, and the lively banjo/mandolin/violin-driven Appalachian folk song “Little Maggie,” along with a rousing rockabilly cover of African-American Delta Blues great Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die,” driven by a down-and-dirty lead guitar. 

To satisfy Led Zeppelin fans, Plant made sure to include such hits as “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “That’s the Way,” and “Misty Mountain Hop.”

During the encore, Plant lead the band in a blistering medley of the blues classic “Bring It On Home,” covered by Zeppelin in ’69, as well as Zeppelin’s first hit single “Whole Lotta Love.” It was here that Plant went old school, belting out his signature vocal wailing while strutting across the stage and swinging the mic stand as if it was still 1969. Yet, in no way was Plant trying to compete with his younger self; though his range may not be the same and he may not move with the same agility, Plant nevertheless expresses his present day range with a swagger and confidence that has never waned.

At the show’s end, Plant declared he would be back within six months and judging by the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction, his return for Arroyo Seco will be the talk of the town. As illustrated by all those clapping and dancing along with him during the performance, Plant continues to prove — while remaining one of the biggest names in music for five decades — that he can still put on quite a performance.

Robert Plant performed March 2 at L.A.’s Orpheum Theater.