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First Night: Robert Plant

A WARM cup of tea and some polite words for his followers -- just some of the makings of a world famous rock star, right?

Well, not exactly.

Which is probably why Robert Plant deserves both our attention and, indeed, our respect.

Fair enough, there are those of a more sane-minded nature who will agree that turning down a couple of hundred million squids to get the old band back together is perhaps the most unquestionable sign of complete and utter lunacy.

For the rest of us (ie, those who reckon the world is fine the way it is without a geriatric Led Zeppelin traipsing about the place), it doesn't take long to realise that Plant is better off the way he is; a wise old man whose explorations into an altogether more delicate surrounding than that of his most famous set-up, was the smartest move of them all. Suits the wrinkles better, too.

After raising more than just sand with the brilliant Alison Krauss in 2007, Plant has yet again displayed one of the many pros of ageing gracefully in the music world by assembling the excellent Band of Joy (an old project with a brand new line-up) for a well-received album that hit shelves in September.

Is he a better folk rocker than a heavy metal singer? Are we to believe that he actually doesn't dream about hitting the road with Zeppelin for a gargantuan trek across the globe?

Does it really matter?

After all, he's just ... cool.

And that's not something you could say about every other beard-wearing 62-year-old man with a peculiar dance and a glorious set of natural curls hanging from his scalp.

Shuffling his way through various sounds of folk, rock, and bluegrass, Plant is in some very fine company with his new group, not least the delectable vocal cords of the superb Patty Griffin.

And then there's multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, whose wonderful playing throughout adds depth and sparkle to a paced yet powerful set of songs.

Of course, most people have turned out for Robert; a warm, comfortable, and often playful performer with his audience.

Vocally, he remains in great shape, and while Griffin, Scott, and the exceptional Buddy Miller on guitar, each share some moments in the spotlight, Plant is still well able to hold his own, spreading his tongue across songs from his own catalogue as well as traditional numbers, and covers by the likes of US indie outfit Low (Monkey) and Richard Thompson (House of Cards).

Inevitably, the set also includes a couple of Zeppelin tunes, including Tangerine and a rollicking rendition of the fantastic Rock and Roll.

A rich and most colourful display of flawless musicianship and unique professionalism from beginning to end, an evening in the company of Robert Plant and his appropriately christened Band of Joy may not be enough for those still crossing their fingers and toes for the Zeppelin tour that is just never going to happen.

But I'll tell you one thing -- it's a damn fine consolation prize.

Star Rating: *****