Full disclosure: I was never a Led Zeppelin fan. I owned their album III and, of course, couldn't escape them on the radio, but compared to the Allman Brothers Band, Little Feat, the Stones and my other favourites of the era, they always seemed pompous and overblown. My loss, probably, but that's the way it went.
Consequently, I've never followed Robert Plant's post-Zep career although, again, I've heard some of his recent work on the radio. So, I had no expectations whatsoever for last night's opening show at the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Given that this is a rare year when I'm not either under contract to the festival to manage media relations, or reviewing acts for a media outlet, I was ready just to hang out, have a few beers and catch up with my jazz buddies.
Well, some performers just have a stage presence that endears them from the moment they appear. Bruce Springsteen wins you over with his energy and his obvious joy at being onstage, Leonard Cohen slides onstage like a man who feels graced to be in your presence and share his words. Plant seemed like a man who has a meaningful, wry overview of who he is—and who he used to be to many in the crowd. On most men with a face that so obviously shows its age and mileage, chest-length curly blond hair would look ridiculous. On Plant, it's like a uniform, like he's saying: Hey, it's me. Remember? And then he launches, unexpectedly, right into a rootsy version of "Black Dog" that both thrills those who are there for a Zep nostalgia trip and convinces everyone else that this is a singer. He's just here to entertain, and after a half-dozen songs his voice is warmed up and he can still hit those powerful tenor thrums that defined him as a young man—and inspired many, many pallid imitators (are you listening, David Coverdale?).
Plant is a man with a sense of humour, a sense of himself, and the sense to give an audience of 11,000 people a little of what they want and a little of what they never expected.
It was a superb and satisfying show from beginning to end.