Now in its 6th year, BluesFest has returned with one of its most impressive line-ups yet. However, the show, topped by co-headliners Robert Plant and Van Morrison, was very much one big hit, and one gigantic miss.
Van Morrison isn’t exactly known for his warm and endearing stage persona. In fact, he’s pretty much known for being moody and stone faced on stage, which is funny in theory, but the story changes when it happens before your very eyes. Gripping his saxophone and wearing his trademark black hat, the seasoned performer strolls onto the stage a few minutes after his band. Nothing anywhere close to a smile is seen, he turned away from the mic whenever he wasn’t singing or playing, when members of his band (who kept the set afloat as they actually did seem to enjoy the thrill of performing for 20,000 people) were soloing it wouldn’t impact him in any way, and at the end of the set, he walked off stage and finished his last line from backstage.
On top of this frustratingly depressing performance, his set was up there with the most monotonous a live performance can be. Eliminating almost every hit and replacing them with blues covers such as Bo Diddley’s ‘I Can Tell’ and Woody Guthrie’s’ ‘Dead Or Alive’ suits the BluesFest banner, but does not make for a fun show. Aside from a rendition of ‘Moondance’, the repeated 12-bar blues that filled every single track was stunningly boring. Blues can be fun and interesting, but Van Morrison’s set took the same structure and the same chord sequence and sucked the life out of the genre.
Admittedly, he’s a great saxophonist and his voice is still strong for a 73 year old, but live music should make you feel good, and Van Morrison just doesn’t do this, and I don’t think he really wants to.
Luckily Robert Plant was on hand to bring the excitement back to the o2. Immediately, Plant was beaming at the audience, his grand stature and impressive hair (for a 70 year old) leading the Led Zeppelin classic ‘Ramble On’ and providing more musical interest in the first second than the entirety of Van Morrison’s 90-minute set. A combination of Plant’s genuinely fantastic latest solo album (of which GIGsoup’s review can be found here) and Led Zeppelin classics are the main feature of the set, with one specific wailing note in ‘Black Dog’ providing an exceptional look back into Plant’s glory days as one of the most powerful vocalists in music history. That isn’t to say his voice has faded though, as ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ is delivered with passion.
Unlike Van Morrison, Plant is still in love with what he does. When he isn’t singing, he steps away from the spotlight and either dances around or gets the audience to appreciate his phenomenal band. Bearded guitarist Skin Tyson is the highlight here, and his acoustic solo impresses Plant as much as it impresses the audience. Plant is happy to joke around and tell stories about his encounters with the blues (which includes the impressive fact that he was able to see both Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf live) and occasional blues covers bring the perfect amount of the genre to his set, without skimping on crowd pleasers. It is ‘Whole Lotta Love’ which unsurprisingly ends the set in style, and Plant and his band appreciatively absorb their well-earned ovation.
It’s no surprise that today was the most important day of BluesFest 2018, and the shocking display from Van Morrison put it on course for disaster. Thankfully, Robert Plant and his loveable personality and stunning setlist turned the show around and turned it into a stunning, feelgood live show.
Robert Plant continues his Carry Fire tour for the rest of the year.