A few weeks before Robert Plant’s latest Es Paranza/Atlantic album, “Fate of Nations,” was released earlier this summer, the British singer issued a press release denouncing the direction that his music had been taking, indicating his new album and tour would return him to a more straight-ahead rock approach.
Well, the former Led Zeppelin crooner kept his promise; both the current album and stage show represent a move away from the too-slick trappings that had hampered his recent efforts. Tuesday at the Universal Amphitheatre, the 44 -year-old former Led Zeppelin singer offered a 110-minute program that took inspiration from ’60s idealism and classic American R&B-fueled rock, much like his former band.
After canceling a weekend date in San Diego to rest his voice (he’s been on the road since a May kick-off in Eastern Europe), Plant was in fine vocal form. He hit the high notes in Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love,” breathed just the right warmth into Tim Harding’s “If I Were a Carpenter” and flexed his melodic muscle on “29 Palms,” a recent No. 1 album-rock track inspired by Plant’s love for the California desert.
Surprisingly, it was on acoustic-oriented Zeppelin material that he made the biggest connection. “Going to California,” an idealist’s theme song of sorts, sounded as dynamic as when it was first released in 1971. An unexpectedly fresh “Thank You” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” (a song dedicated to a former Led Zep groupie) were also highlights that further cement the staying power of the ground-breaking band’s music. Of Plant’s solo material, the hard-rocking “Promised Land”; the bittersweet “I Believe,” a paean to Plant’s son Karac, who died at age 9; the Zeppy “Calling to You”; and a reworked “Tall Cool One,” the show’s opener, were standouts.
Plant’s crack band, anchored by the thick bass of Charlie Jones (Plant’s son-in-law), was a catalyst for the singer’s relaxed stage demeanor, pushing the veteran singer with an anxious, powerful delivery that never allowed him to become too relaxed.
Support act Big Head Todd & the Monsters played an impressive 45-minute set of guitar-oriented, Rocky Mountain blues-boogie that spotlighted band-leader Todd Parkmohr, a soulful singer and nimble lead guitarist.
Tracks from the trio’s Giant Records debut album made up most of the nine-song performance, which was highlighted by the feedback-rich “Broken Hearted Savior,” the Springsteen-like bar-rocker “Bittersweet” (the band’s new single) and “Sister Sweetly,” a smokin’ blues number that showcased Parkmohr’s digital dexterity.