[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
Royal Albert Hall, London
BLEED LIKE ME
THE ALBERT HALL lends gravitas to almost anything. You could line up a bill of topless, chubby mud-wrestlers here, or even a reality-TV gameshow audition, and afford it a semblance of dignity. So credit to Robert Plant that he needn't rely upon the Albert Hall effect when headlining this Teenage Cancer Trust benefit. I expect Plant would sound this good playing in a barn. He'd storm it.
Plant is one of the few major figures of his generation who hasn't settled into hobbyism, or cheapened his prime by vainly reattempting it. He appears genuinely invigorated by his music, and in turn he breathes life into it. It helps that he not only remains in full command of his instrument - in this case, his unmistakable voice - but has refined his technique. The voice is better tempered than in Led Zeppelin's day, in a lower register, with less vibrato, less gristle and - improbable as it would once have seemed - a certain delicacy.
He demonstrates this from the off with No Quarter, and an outstanding Black Dog in which the all-out screaming fighter-jet attack of the original is replaced with richer textures. He's found a way of easing the song - once a totem of youthful virility - into middle age, without sapping its power or making a fool of himself. He's long since twigged that, to endure as a rock god, you have to give up on being Apollo and model yourself on a more seasoned tenant of the pantheon. Thus his re-reading of When The Levee Breaks is nothing short of regal.
Because Plant (unlike many younger rockers) isn't in thrall to the past, his set radiates a vibrancy lacking in, for instance, the shaggy support band, Rooster - whose hoary, sterile rawkisms make for a blast of stale air. It's a toss-up between them and the self-promoting Son of Smashie master of ceremonies (it's all for charidee, and hey folks, don't forget to check out my radio show) as to which is less sufferable.
Plant has a forthcoming album to promote, and appropriately enough, it's titled Mighty Rearranger. At first you wonder if the new songs have co opted Nineties dance sounds. Given the extent to which Zeppelin were sampled and pillaged by every branch of electronic music, he'd be entitled to co-opt anything he damn well pleases. But it soon becomes evident that he's simply been shopping at the same stores. Eastern and, especially, African rhythms abound.
That the new material he seeds through the set can stand alongside the Zeppelin classics is a tribute not so much to the songs themselves as to Plant's own performance. His present band, serviceable though it is, can't measure up to the old one; but Plant himself can and does. The two-hour set never drags until the closing Whole Lotta Love, and the middle part of that always did straggle a bit.
Early in their career, Garbage were dubbed “the Goth Abba”. It was intended as a slight but should have been taken as a compliment, even if Abba themselves could have justly claimed that title. Garbage were one of those bands who made a cracking debut album and seemed to have little to add thereafter. If their fourth LP all but admits this, by bearing an uncanny likeness to the first, it's still a satisfying return to form - a collection of pert, appetisingly sour pop-rock songs.
Garbage's shtick is embodied in their singer, Shirley Manson - a fundamentally sensible and circumspect Scots lass who craftily projects the image of a vaguely kinky minx. Garbage do pain in palatable doses - sado masochism for the masses. They're the musical equivalent of a black rubber miniskirt and knee-boots, and it's an outfit that once again they're wearing well. Metaphorically speaking. I mean, I wouldn't want to see it on anyone called Butch, Steve or Duke.
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