Review: Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters – Live at David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption

With Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar, Robert Plant reminded the world of who he is, backed by an incredible band dubbed The Sensational Space Shifters, in 2014 and it was something of a reinvention for the man who once fronted a behemoth of a band. Jump forward two years, Plant and his new band headlined the first Festival of Disruption. Its aim to raise funds for the David Lynch Foundation, “to heal post traumatic stress among veterans, survivors of domestic abuse, and at-risk children through Transcendental Meditation”.

As causes go, it’s a worthwhile one. With only one album to this band’s repertoire at the time (it’d be another year before we’d get Carry Fire), the set is only an hour long. And that’s with them chucking in a couple of re-worked Led Zeppelin classics. As I noted when reviewing last year’s album, Plant is still in fine voice. He may not be shrieking like his 70s heyday but his dulcet tones remain the same.

As the band make full use of the stage at The Theatre at Ace Hotel, and in return, the music fills the entire room. With varied sounds, it’s essentially folk music powered by African rhythms and melodies. Whilst there may be the traditional electric guitars, bass and drums, it’s not rock. And it’s not meant to be. However, watching Plant shows the dichotomy of the man.

He’s playing the music he wants to at this stage of his life, he’s not going to break out “Big Wheel” or make a foray into the album he recorded with Alison Krauss and you can see he’s at ease playing this folk music. Except, when he and the band hit the Led Zeppelin staples, reinterpreted in this new fashion, songs like “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love” have an immense effect on the man. Undeniably he’s giving it his all throughout the performance but with those classics, it appears he digs into reserves to put that bit more of himself into them.

Perhaps he’s doing it for the fans. Or perhaps those songs still have their appeal to him and in this new format, he’s found a new lease of life for them. However, “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” is the finest moment of the performance. Stripping it down compared to the rest of the set, Plant sounds like he did on Led Zeppelin. But then again, it was originally a folk song.

At this point, the band had been playing for four years together and it’s Robert Plant, he’s only going to work with the best in the first place, so it’s understandable the band are drilled to perfection. “Poor Howard” and “Turn it Up” show the band getting comfortable and warmed up whilst “The Enchanter” shows the level of musicianship each member of Plant’s band has in their own right.

Covers of “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Mona” sandwich the aforementioned “Whole Lotta Love” bring the set to a close before the encore, “Going to California”, brings the evening to its proper end. With the exception of the standing ovation the band receive for the final song, it seems Los Angeles crowds are very polite. No mid-song cheers, clapping only when certain the song is at its end and stay in their seats for the duration of the performance.

It’s a well-shot DVD, giving screen time in equal measure to Plant and his band, focusing on each member of the band as and when appropriate. Crowd shots are gratuitous but not over-done and the stage itself is shown from a multitude of distances.

If Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar reignited Robert Plant’s fire, this is an excellent display of what he can still deliver in a live setting. It shows a man who still enjoys performing with a tight band who clearly loves the music he’s making nowadays. Even if, despite his protests, he is still in love with the past, he continues to move forward.

Live at David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption is out now

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