Pop: Been a long time since they rock 'n' rolled



FROM A distance of 60 yards, Robert Plant looks just the same as he did when this critic last saw him at Shepton Mallet in 1970. That is, a live rock icon with the world at his feet. Nice feeling of deja vu then, when Page and Plant did "Bring It On Home" and "Heartbreaker" in the opening set. Jimmy Page lacked the floppy hat and beard, but the guitar maintained his trade mark resonance.

The show rambled on with an excursion through Led Zeppelin II, but you suspected the duo were just warming up for something else. Correct. The next song was "Walking Into Clarksdale", a non-Zep original, but none the less borne along by the same unique voice/guitar combination. Jimmy Page continues to extract fantastic but essentially new noises from the instrument, his mastery of sustain and feedback second only to Jimi Hendrix. And what of the Plant voice, patented in 1969 and imitated ever since? "When The World Was Young" provided a good test. Robert yodelled comfortably along, surfing easily on Page's guitar-generated waves. Yes - the same voice.

Stools were produced for "Going to California", which apparently started the "request" section of the gig. There were moments during this song when the guitar and vocal parts actually became indistinguishable. The same went for "Gallows Pole", which Plant insisted was an old English folk song. The difference is the Burundi drum beat that drives at double speed. Distant memories, also, of John Bonham.

"Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" signaled the beginning of an exercise in voice control by Robert Plant, each "baby" landing perfectly after the previous one, as Page's loping guitar quickly converted from rhythm to lead and back again. "Psychedelic," uttered Plant as the intro began for "How Many More Times?" And so everyone waited for Jimmy's special bit in the middle. A cheer went up when he seized his bow from the top of an amp, and began steadily sawing his guitar strings. It's his oldest trick, but he does it perfectly, creating sounds usually only possible in the bath.

Straight into "Most High", their favourite new song, featuring Middle Eastern drumming, and other noises from the desert, including the mysterious oriental oboe, actually produced on a keyboard. Page and Plant look as if they're heavily into this new stuff, performing with much more seriousness than when they lapse into the "easy" songs, for example "Whole Lotta Love". Whether Page played this with his eyes shut could not be seen at a distance of 60 yards, but it sounded like it. Plant's "way down inside" part was OK, but required a lot of echo assistance on the microphone. The crowd bayed for an encore when "Whole Lotta Love" ended, and they were rewarded with "Black Dog". Everyone went home happy.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's newspaper