First up is Van the Man. I’ve never seen him live before but have heard enough of the stories to be a little apprehensive over what Van will turn up. Well I needn’t have worried and the set is littered with a bunch of old time blues covers. If you were a expecting a Van greatest hits you would have been disappointed.
A low key entrance with Van centre stage behind his saxophone, (Ed’s note I didn’t know he played the sax), beginning the set with a great version of ‘Wait a minute baby’. The whole evening has a great low key jazz blues feel with the band doing their best to turn the behemoth of the O2 into a small smoky Soho basement jazz club. A word for the excellent band who provided the perfect accompaniment to the lead of Van but with still room for them all to shine in their own small way.
Hard to pick a highlight as the whole ninety minutes swept by very quickly but the extended ‘Baby Please don’t go’ segueing in to ‘Rock Island Line’ was exceptional.
Main act tonight is Robert Plant and his Space Shifters. It’s been over twenty five years since I last saw Mr Plant solo and eleven since the memorable night at this same venue with the Led Zeppelin reunion gig. Previous set lists suggested a mix of Zep, solo and covers and tonight is no exception. Kicking off with ‘Ramble On’, this sets the scene with many of the old songs reinterpreted for this new band. And this approach does in the main work well.
As with Morrison, Plant has surrounded himself with talented musicians and tonight they are joined by Seth Lakeman on fiddle on most of the tracks. It’s fair to say the chest beating and rock god poses of the seventies have given way to a more sedate stance behind the microphone. These days Plant just lets his instrument take centre stage and given his has just completed its seventieth decade with us his voice is as strong as ever. Gone are the slightly over the top self-indulgent vocal range exercises that marred some of his eighties show and tonight it’s all killa and no filla.
Highlights are an exquisite ‘Baby I’m Gonna Leave you’ and a great version of ‘The Rain Song’
A word on the venue. We were lucky to have some tickets in a box tonight and whilst you probably lose a little by not being front and centre, the sound couldn’t be faulted. This could be because you are sat at the level of the speakers on stage. It’s always difficult to generate an atmosphere at any seated gig but this was especially true tonight with the older audience generating more polite applause than whooping and hollering.
In summary though a great evening with two artists who still possess impressive voices, have a great back catalogue to draw upon and still put on a good show. What was nice given the title of the festival was that they both embraced the genre and treated us to a few old classics from the originators of the blues.
Until the next time keep on blues rockin y’all