Robert Plant, Folk Phoenix, Plays San Antonio

The Man Who Led Zeppelin

The man who was king.
The man who was king.

As the lion-headed lead singer of one of the most "successful" folk blues rock outfits of all time, Robert Plant could, literally, just check out. With the (often-contested) royalties rolling in like manna from the golden gods, the former Led Zeppelin frontman could retire to a sprawling estate in the Welsh hills and live off of cider and writing credits until he finally mounts that stairway to heaven (sorry). Incidentally, this is not the path he has chosen.

The 67-year-old seems, however sensitively, to loathe the juggernaut that has made him one of the most established singers in all of rock 'n' roll. Zeppelin, with guitarist Jimmy Page, the shamefully under-mentioned bassist John Paul Jones and usual drummer James Bonham, son of the late John Bonham, have played only a handful of shows since the 1980 breakup. Cuts from the Zeppelin catalog have remained in Plant's sets, but the tunes are mostly reworked, employing more sedated arrangements and instrumentation. Plant has, at this point, performed the famous catalog of sweat-drenched, mountain-hopping jammers more often with his various backing bands than he ever did with his primary money-maker, and as considerably less hot-and-bothered stadium thumpers.

If Plant's cock could talk ... oh, the tales of tail it could tell. Of nubile angel-hairs, cherubic teens, pubic fountains of frothy cream and humid honey roiling from between their thighs. The throes of ecstasy he has experienced, from lavish parties full of women, wine and song, discarded hotel rooms, the walls being the only witness to what carnal delights were staged within, to the glorious spectacles of cock and rock that occurred on Zep's many trips through the U.S. and abroad.

This access, coital and otherwise, has helped temper the artist that now prefers the love-making atmosphere of theaters to the one-night stand anonymity of arenas, shirking the latter, venues that other performers like Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones frequent, places he could easily fill if he was willing to become what he apparently feels is a gimmicky rehashing of past glories.

This is what's most compelling about Plant, the artist: That he prefers to forge ahead, treading the well-worn path of world music in all of its many forms and play it, sincerely, in small, cozy settings. His desire to continue in the folky format he has negates all of the bullshit of being a washed up (onto the shores of financial Elysium, perhaps) rock star. This is what he should be praised for, beyond the 40-year-old hits and the brawny, blonde torso exposed and framed in denim and lace. Though he may have bedded royalty, gorged himself on the finest delicacies, meat that drips right off the bone, wine that is fermented from the loins of seraphim and sensual jubilation hardly fathomable to us lowly masses, Plant plays on.

He still writes, too. His Sensational Space Shifters, many of which were compiled from his previous ensemble, Strange Sensation, are set to play the Tobin Center, a 1,750-capacity theater. Pulling from his recent LP Lullaby and ... The Ceaseless Roar, Anglo folk ballads, rhythms from Africa and the East, the occasional Zeppelin tune, blues standards, country waltzes, Everly Brothers duets and songs from the underbelly of popular music, Plant is poised to please those that can progress with him. If you go looking for zeppelin-sized antics or adolescent affectation, may you be severely disappointed.

Like many of the best white rock 'n' roll heroes of the last days of the Western music empire — when folks bought records and artists made records — his persona has surpassed his art. However, to witness a Plant performance today, with its intimate atmosphere and sincere treatment, one would struggle to believe it — a blessing in itself as I don't have the endurance to stand around for three hours while Plant parades around on an inflatable penis with special guest Taylor Swift as they plod through a synth-laced version of "Black Dog."

Thank you, Robert, for the years of depravity and opulence and the resulting ones of humility and craftsmanship.