Do you JuJu?
Full circles often happen in the natural evolution of living things, but the exact space and time that it takes to complete this curve cannot always be known. The given distance from the locus of a point, must be constant in order to support the return of its boundary. The seeker. Robert Plant, is true to the art of not only music, but discovery. Music fans should not be surprised that Plant's latest tour with the Sensational Space Shifters incorporated world music influences. Plant created an atmosphere of warmth, exploration and adventure
~ And he did this through ritual.
This path started decades ago with Zeppelin's exploration of global sounds and then Robert's establishment of his first backing band:
The Strange Sensation, which included the following members:
Justin Adams – bendir, lap steel guitar, mandolin, tehardant, bass; Wayward Sheiks member/collaborater with Jah Wobble, Tinariwen and Brian Eno.
John Baggott – keyboards and synthesizer; jazz and trip hop artist, also a member of Portishead's live band.
Billy Fuller – electric and stand-up bass; formerly of Fuzz Against Junk, currently a member of BEAK, Geoff Barrow of Portishead), The Moles and Malakai. Bass on the Massive Attack album, Heligoland.
Robert Plant – vocals.
Dave Smith – drums and percussion.
Skin Tyson – acoustic, electric and lap steel guitars, bass; Britpop musician with Cast and Men from Mars.
Plant recorded the Multi-Grammy nominated, Dreamland and Mighty Rearranger with Justin Adams, who is also a producer. For this tour, the band name changed to reflect the new line-up and a deeper visit to the true foci of the music being embraced, through the addition of Juldeh Camara.
If you've been in this sphere of listening, you probably have a collection from Real World Music on your shelf. Peter Gabriel's label elevates the global musicians in their organic way of performing and preserves their talent, while integrating it into formal recordings. Robert Plant guested on Further In Time with the AfroCelt Sound System, Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara recorded Tell No Lies on this label in 2009. These are all just samples of the triumphant sounds that Robert Plant, Justin Adams and the rest of the band have been circling for years.
In our opinion, although we honored and respected Robert Plant's visit to bluegrass with Alison Krauss/Raising Sand and the historic blues, soul, slow core romp with the Band of Joy, the forms and strict harmonies required for these records seemed somewhat restrictive of his natural style. Always wanting to challenge himself, Plant made beautiful recordings and performances at these shows, which we attended. But after seeing him with the Sensational Space Shifters this past week, there was joy and relief. We want the Robert Plant who can howl and rant. We knew his voice could still bring it. This music was nothing new to us; in fact, it was so good to have these sounds come back. Ever the adventurer in his own circle of music and historical exploration, when he comes around to an origin that he has chosen, he always brings something new to it. With the music of Robert Plant, no song or sound is ever the same as before. And that is a wonderful experience. Welcome.
Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters at the Bank of America Pavilion
July 25, 2013.
The performance of Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters in Boston began with incense. And then Robert's voice calling in tribal lyrics from backstage. The vocals built the tension and earthy drums, which had a Middle Eastern sound, were added by renowned jazz percussionist, Dave Smith. Liam "Skin" Tyson added acoustic strings, which quickly pulled in the delight of Zeppelin and blues fans, as the riffs of Joan Baez's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" were heard.
The music joined the crowd in past and present. The large and the small details were managed on purpose, to keep the rituals uniform and allow them to build. Before we knew it, we all were participants in a collective experience that was like no other. Plant was wearing a beautifully embroidered shirt, and, as he is so well known for his golden hair flying through the rock world, it was tied up tonight. Robert Plant's signature moves, style and grace have not changed. He is present for every moment of the music once the curtain lifts. There was a non-verbal interaction between Skin and Plant, as Plant watched Skin, watched him playing the acoustic in the stage spotlight, as if he was in a trance. The melodies flowed like water over rocks, and then it was done. Skin and Plant sort of bowed to each other, like finishing a sequence of steps. There were mandalas on the ceiling. During the heavier portions of the song, the band timed their 'jumps' with their instruments. A gentle bow finished the song. Then Robert Plant approached the stage with a very warm, casual and friendly tone. He seemed so comfortable with the crowd. "Hey!" Oh, c'mon, Let's GO!" he said.
The Billboard chart topper, "I'm In the Mood" for a melody was played after that, which was fun, freeing and familiar to anyone who had a radio and ears in the 1980's. Eyes too, as the dreamy video from MTV still sets a standard for visuals in music. Plant addressed the crowd again, "Hey, Hey!"
The Mighty Rearranger album is something that every Robert Plant fan, or every rock fan, for that matter, should pick up. It is a mix of acoustic ballads, world music, rock edges and just incredible creativity from co-writers, Robert Plant and Justin Adams. "Tin Pan Valley" was a chosen track for this tour, and we all had better be moving to higher ground, because that stage was set on FIRE. Red lights and sharp phrasing had Justin Adams in flight over the crowd. Hovering with the distortion twisting and turning the atmosphere, they had total control over the crowd in an instant.
He broke for conversation and talked to us about playing in Boston as a young musician, 'dreaming of the things I wasn't yet':
Robert Plant: "Hey, Boston, Massachusetts, New England and the rocky shores of Maine! ... I played here, at the old Tea Party Club down the road, there is some sort of euphemism about tea and this town and I had some strange reflection on, being British. In those days we were madly, as now, madly in love with the music of the United States and the multi-cultural elements of America, so tonight we're gonna visit some stuff from the Mississippi Delta, we're gonna go to this Charlie Patton song from 1929/Chicago. And Charlie Patton had this 'thing', he didn't know why, but he just needed a little ... spoonful ... "
This song tore into fantastic guitar solos that then scaled down to the depths of our watchful collective souls. Robert introduced the The Sensational Space Shifters: Justin Adams – guitar, bendir, vocals, John Baggott – keyboards, Juldeh Camara – ritti (one stringed African violin), kologo (African Banjo), talking drum, vocals, Billy Fuller – bass guitar, vocals, Dave Smith – drums and percussion, Liam "Skin" Tyson – guitar, vocals.
A note about John Baggott on keys. From his website: His background as a multi-instrumentalist and producer, in addition to the widest range of genre experience you can imagine, (ranging from classical, to traditional acoustic, with influences of jazz, world and folk, has brought "an array of vintage Moogs, tape echoes and Wurlitzer pianos, pushing computers to their limits with warped loops, beats and distorted filters" to the scene. Who could be more perfect to capture the vast musical imagery for Plant's creative paintbrush, as the Sensational Space Shifters pioneer more horizons?
Back to the circles. One of the most popular songs in the Led Zeppelin catalog is the (1971) single from their fourth album, "Black Dog". In blues lore, a black dog is a benevolent ghost spirit who accompanies a traveler and protects him. Black dogs are often known to meet at the crossroads of a journey and patiently wait until a decision is made. They can also warn of infidelity. Black dogs are loyal to the journeyer. (Book, Debra Devi, The Language of The Blues). Plant had the crowd chanting, "ah-ha" then spun off into a fantastic swirl of world sounds, with Adams climbing the stage edged speakers and all vocals followed in turn. The global chant materialized energy, and the musicians were circling around each other at times with Plant. It was quite an historic moment, an evolution of sorts.
I think the meek did inherit all the Earth during the song, "Another Tribe." I love the folk funk that makes people move in right angles to this song. And then there was a retro fade-out. Album rock is still alive!
Plant: "Wow, what an evening is this!" The mandolin and acoustics came out and to the crowd's shock and delight, when the few bars of "Going To California"
were started. Robert grabbed his heart a few times and it endeared him to the crowd even more.
Plant: "So c'mon children ... sinking?" and he made an all knowing face that was classic Plant. A lady from the second row yelled out, "I Love You" and
Robert smiled. The trio of musicians gathered and celebrated this song, Robert laughed as if surprised, delighted. I have seen him several times live and have
to say, although he always enjoys performing, tonight, he seemed really relaxed and happy. He lead the crowd in the ending, fading out again ... 'aaah-aah-aah
Plant: "Many of these lyrics are true, some survive, some are not true. Funny how times change, even in one day."
Robert talked with us about the 'territory' of the Sensational Space Shifters, and how an African boy came out and talked to us in a language we did
not understand. I love listening to the Strange Sensation, but now I can't imagine the band without Juldeh Camara.
He announced the band, very generously, again, describing bassist, Bill Fuller, as the man who is 'most in charge'.
He said he mentioned everybody 'apart from Elvis'. It was ironic that he mentioned Elvis, because we felt a presence of rock royalty here in this arena tonight, especially with Justin Adams' power and control of the crowd. I think Elvis was there that night, by the way, and in the days to follow he haunted us in our reflections. Black Dog?
Dave Smith lead the percussion, and the full stage took on what John Henry Bonham accomplished in, "Four Sticks." It was played beautifully, and a world music expansion was added. Dave Smith is a well known drummer in the UK and freelances with other artists of many genres. Multi-talented in jazz, blues and global instruments, his technique has been difficult to match. We interviewed Jack Hues of Wang Chung, who played with Smith on a jazz record called, "Shattering." Mr. Hues said that Smith's drumming was 'heroic'. (Photo from http://davesmithdrummer.co.uk/) .
The Space Shifters do this 'thing' that I noticed. I'll call it an 'audience sweep'. They come through and 'sweep' the crowd with waves of power and sound, there is really no hiding or avoiding this when it happens - you become part of its magnetism. People danced in frenetic freedom, stood staring in amazement, grabbed their partners, and hugged each other. This is Juju at its finest. They tap in to the collective of their audience and operate to affect all on multiple levels.
Plant: "Hey, Hey, HEY!" "Let's go to the Misty Mountains!" Robert put his finger to his lips ... "Shhhh - here they come!" They did not play the Led Zeppelin, "Misty Mountain Hop" though. The song that beckoned us to engage was "Friends". All I remember after this point, was holding hands and dancing, with everyone in my row and Robert smiling, as if he knew this band's work was done.
Robert told stories of Alan Lomaz and Bukka White. "Fixin To Die," which was covered on Dreamland so intensely, was now at our doorstep. "Another way of messin with the blues," Robert said. Ever unique in his ability to sing high and gritty at the same time, the vocals were the center point of the circle that kept returning, and returning, to move this audience. Who would have predicted that when the Midlands needed a blues singer, the world would get a phenomenon?
To see Justin Adams perform was equally phenomenal. Riveting and bigger than life, a juggernaut if you will. Slapping his guitar while shaking one leg, the blues sound moving him (and us) to the core. The way he spanked the guitar over and over again had the front row in a state of frenzy. This must be a blues tradition, because I've seen it in other performances - most recently in a review I did for The Boston Blues Society on Doug Deming's bassist, although not quite like the talented Mr. Adams.
Plant spoke : "You have a big queue of people that you love ... " "What Is and What Should Never Be." I often wonder about the lyrics of this song, so simple and fantastic - "It's to a castle I will take you ... " but yet the questions within the dream of it remain.
A brilliant blues intro opened, "Whole Lotta Love," with the distortion coming in waves that every now and again, plummeted us, down on the killin floor. There was what I'll call a world music 'transfer' that could indeed, see us spin, and then a surprising (Thorogood/Diddley) "Who Do You Love" cover was nailed and Plant unleashed his vocals, as he has been doing for ages. Dave Smith set up a masterful drum transition, and this crowd had high standards. As they got into the groove, I could hear fans positively commenting on the technical parts of the performance.
Robert quickly and casually exited the stage. "Boston, thank you so much, thank you, see you!"
With such global fame, it makes sense Robert Plant would be protected from the public. But in "his house" of music, he creates a space where everyone feels welcome. Robert kindly came over to the front row, shook hands with fans and even accepted some flowers.
"When the journey is done, there is no turning back, no"
Big Log entered and it was a refreshing ride back to Robert Plant's solo career. It flowed incessantly and covered the audience with calming light. Plant and the band, as intense as they are, seem to be patient men. They stop and wait for Skin's solos to unfold, and this one had a southwestern, dusty flair, much like the video of the song, that we know so well.
Robert Plant is a wonderful story - teller and a soothsayer. He quipped about tea from time to time during the show. If you don't agree with him, you must respect him, he just commands it and that in turn, makes you stand true to yourself as well. He mentioned how the historic Boston Tea party took a stand to throw the tea in the water, and yes, we did dispose of it in the water, a lot of tea, but in the US, the water was never hot enough [to make good tea] anyway. "Oh, you can have herbal teas," he said, "whatever you want, but you need to get the water HOT." "Rock n Roll" had the crowd in an uproar as expected and everybody all out rockin. The metal vibrato was balanced with new journeys of African circle dancing and it just worked.
Robert Plant: "Rock and Roll" was a British, Irish, folk peace song, reclaiming - there's something more to say ... "
And there always is something more to say, about music, dreams, and humanity, through the works of Robert Plant. Circling back to his core ideas, Robert Plant continues to be the rearranger of great classic music and the pioneer of the new. The audience are part of the collective and invited in with every show and recording. Incense, tea, circle dancing, heart beat rhythms, are all part of the ritual, that allows the experience to seep into the fabric of people's lives, long after the show is over. We love the Sensational Space Shifters.
Do you Juju ??