BEING THERE: Robert Plant @ The Mann Center


Photo by DAN LONG

Flash back to 1972 in South Plainfield, NJ. I’m three years old. My earliest memories are of my father and I pulling the pots and pans out of the cupboard and setting them up like rack toms on a Ludwig kit because he and the drunk and stoned partygoers who were at my house every weekend were ripe and ready to watch me do my thing: the outro of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll.” Bonham’s mini-solo/big finish was in my hands now. Wooden spoons in hand, I blasted out the fills with such vigor – in my mind the spoons had flames shooting out of the ends and I nailed every hit perfectly. In the eyes of the bikers, truckers, and ne’er do wells at the party, I was a total spazz that had them guffawing until tears streamed down their cheeks as they cheered me on for an encore.

Shortly thereafter, around age five, as my fragile brain started to make more connections and Zeppelin became absolute magic to me. Nothing had ever taken my mind and soul and transported both into another dimension like this music. Listening to “The Battle Of Evermore,” the Eagle animal spirit flies me over the evergreen forests through the rising mist at 60mph. “Misty Mountain Hop” still flashes visions of denim-clad, boot-wearing cool guys hanging out in the sunshine smoking that stuff that smelled like burning rope. “Going To California” lit a fire in my heart that felt like it would lead me to my wife someday. Zeppelin made me want to be a magician when I grew up. Not the “pull bunnies out of a hat” magician, but one who can make things happen through the focus of my own will. Pretty fuckin’ cool shit for a five year old.

I’ve never lost my love for Zep over the years, except for the letdown of Jimmy’s drunken string plunking at Live Aid, and Robert’s pained overreaching, despite his diminished vocal range. His solo career has always been admirable, whether his “Big Log” days or The Honeydrippers or the Grammy-winning Raising Sand with Alison Krauss — all those stylistic changes always seemed to fit him like a glove.

Fast forward to last night’s Zeppelin-rich set. I had been telling two of my School of Rock friends (who are incredibly talented female vocalists) right before the show, to not be too disappointed with Robert’s voice if he tries to go for the upper register. I couldn’t have been more wrong as they opened with “Wanton Song” and he nailed every note. The crowd went nuts for all things Zep with “Black Dog,” “The Rain Song” (my wife and I had our first dance on our wedding day to this), “Trampled Under Foot,” “The Lemon Song.” Note that most of these gems start out in straight up Zep style, but midway through get broken down and deconstructed into World Music versions barely resembling their former album version selves. That’s the Plant style, which got dangerously “Dave Mathews-y” during a few tunes (yeesh!). When they jumped into a sped up “double-time boogie woogie” jam during “Whole Lotta Love” (or was it “Rock & Roll”?), I thought I was gonna blow chunks. It sounded like Zeppelin on Broadway. Nevertheless, Plant and company kept up a great energy level and the crowd responded in kind. A sustained roar pf applause brought them back quickly for a well-deserved encore. Every face I saw had a huge grin on it, mine included. It was that kind of gig. — DAN LONG