Monday, November 9, 2009

Robert Plant revisits Fate of Nations era with guitarist Francis Dunnery

Led Zeppelin fans have criticized Robert Plant for his willingness to sing Led Zeppelin songs during his concert appearances, particularly when new and foreign-sounding arrangements are applied. (Check out the comments section from this post two months ago or this one from only a few weeks ago for two examples.)

We'll see what the reaction is to this.

Last week, Plant dipped into his past but not Led Zeppelin's. He did this by sitting in with Francis Dunnery, who was one of Plant's guitarists on his 1993 solo album, Fate of Nations, and his subsequent tour.

Here's Dunnery, in a interview conducted this year, on his work with Plant in the '90s:

Dunnery has been on a U.K. tour supporting his new 2-CD set, There’s a Whole New World Out There, which looks back on his own career by remaking several of the hits with which he's been affiliated -- one of those being Plant's own "Calling to You."

Most other songs on Dunnery's album are re-recordings of tracks he originally performed with his '80s band, It Bites. That band, incidentally, now exists in reunited form albeit without Dunnery, who was its original singer and lead guitarist, having replaced him with a fan.

Dunnery evidently has no problem performing those songs. As for his fans? They dig it! In Australia and New Zealand, for instance, Dunnery will be going on a house concert tour, and two of the shows are already sold out.

Back to my original point: Dunnery's onstage guest on Friday night the final show of his tour, at the Walls Restaurant in Oswestry, was Plant. They ran through a straightforward rendition of "Calling to You," as seen below.

Plant was all smiles as he heard Dunnery's band start up the song, especially when Brett Kull came in with a second guitar harmony that was on the original.

He commanded the first verse on his own, sounding just like he did 16 years ago, when that album was released. But when he missed the cue to enter for the second verse, everybody else who had a microphone stepped in and unfortunately started drowning out Plant.

At other times, it was clear Plant was looking to others for some help with the vocal cues -- and perhaps even the lyrics -- to a song whose arrangement really hadn't changed much. It was evident Plant was a little out of practice on the song, even though it was something he performed with the Strange Sensation as recently as in 2007.

As the song went on and there were no more cues to miss, Plant comfortably began adding vocals wherever possible including throughout instrumental sections.

Keyboardist Tom Brislin soloed, creating a synthesized approximation of Nigel Kennedy's violin on the original and "progging it up" a bit. The sound must have reminded Plant immediately of somebody like Keith Emerson or Patrick Moraz because he immediately misquoted a Yes lyric from "Roundabout," offering, "Mountains come out of the sea and just stand there."

Then, to Dunnery's apparent delight, Plant launched into an impromptu monologue on progressive rock artists he's known professionally, telling a joke about where one Jethro Tull drummer once shoved Ian Anderson's flute. Hmmmm.

On top of Dunnery's echoing guitar effect, Plant ended up vamping on a "When the Levee Breaks" reference, shortened to adapt to a 5/4 time signature: "Mean old levee taught me to weep, mean old levee taught me to weep ..." It sounded great!

So, let me ask all the Led Zeppelin fans out there who think Plant isn't allowed to sing Led Zeppelin songs anymore since he doesn't want to reunite Led Zeppelin a few questions, just to determine the guidelines of acceptability:
  • Is Plant allowed to vamp on a Led Zeppelin lyric while he performs one of his solo songs?
  • Is this particular lyric -- "mean old levee taught me to weep ..." -- OK for Plant to sing today since it was in a song by Memphis Minnie long before Plant appropriated it for a Led Zeppelin album?
  • Is Plant not even allowed to sing a song from his own solo career anymore, since he obviously isn't in any hurry to reform his solo band lineups with Robbie Blunt, Phil Johnstone or Skin Tyson?
  • Is it OK for Plant to team up onstage with Francis Dunnery, a guy who's performing songs from his former band at a time his former band replaced him because they wanted to reunite sooner than Dunnery was available?
  • Are these questions more than a little bothersome? If so, then why insist on reverting to the crazy idea that Robert Plant must reunite Led Zeppelin out of a debt to any of the other surviving members?


  1. I think I'm more concerned about Dunnery asphyxiating himself if he wears his guitar any higher.

    How many times did you have to watch/listen to that video to make out what Plant was saying? I was lost.

    Agreed about the background vocals - Robert was being drowned out, but as you say - he probably brought that on himself by missing his cue. I've always loved Calling to You but was disappointed with the repetitiveness of the lyrics. It's kind of like Shining in the Light from Walking into Clarksdale in that way.

  2. Hahaha, I noticed Francis seemed to be buckled in pretty tight there. Would Ralph Nader approve?

    Actually, I understood Plant's spoken words from the get-go. I had headphones on, which probably helped.

    I have always felt that way about "Shining in the Light" but not so much about "Calling to You." It's totally not the way Led Zeppelin liked to be -- and the reason "All My Love" was nicknamed "The Hook."

  3. You know, it's not so much that Plant sings Zeppeln material, it's that he then goes on, (and somewhat on...) about not wanting to be that guy anymore, not wanting to live in the past. But he would be playing to audiences that number in the hundreds if he didn't sing the Led Zeppelin stuff. If he stopped pretending he's above that stuff, just said, "You know, |I don't really want to play with those guys anymore," no one would care what he sings.

  4. I just got some new headphones, so maybe I'll try the video again with the benefit of those...

    I liked the Calling to You medleys on '95 Page/Plant tour before they dropped CtY and Shake My Tree and moved the medley to Whole Lotta Love. Having the medley in the middle helped to provide some needed distance between (what I think of as) the repetitive choruses, and of course having the string accompaniment didn't hurt. Plant also did a nice job with Calling to You when he toured with Strange Sensation in 2002.

  5. Hi Steve;
    What is up with the Ian Anderson bashing or is RP just an angry drunk?


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