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When you're the 63-year-old lead singer of one of the most legendary bands on the planet, you can pretty much do whatever you want to.

That's why, while his homeland of England was showcasing U.K. rock 'n roll groups during the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, Robert Plant rode through Alabama in the midst of a brief U.S. tour with his newest group, Sensational Space Shifters.

Just how brief was their tour? Birmingham was the band's second – and final – performance.

So when the infamous Led Zeppelin frontman came to the Alabama Theatre for what he called "the second and final gig of the second and final leg of the first ever Sensational Space Shifters U.S. tour," Birmingham thanked him with a sold-out crowd and enthusiastic support.

After a brief but enjoyable set from country rock singer Hayes Carll, Plant hit the stage at 9:05 backed by a band of musicians hand-picked from other bands.

Right from the start, it was clear that this performance would be one that avoided being pigeonholed into a specific genre.

Guitarists Justin Adams (of Juju and Jah Wobble) and Liam "Skin" Tyson (of Cast) moved about with rock 'n roll fervor while keyboardist John Baggott (of Massive Attack and Portishead), bassist Billy Fuller (of Juju and Beak) and Dave Smith (of Juju and Outhouse Ruhabi) held down the rhythm on "Tin Pay Alley," Led Zeppelin's "Friends," and a cover of Howlin' Wolf's "44."

A few songs in, Plant brought out one of the outfit's most talented – and most unique – members in Juldeh Camara to wield a pair of fascinating instruments: the ritti (a one-stringed African violin) and the kologo (an African banjo). The Sensational Space Shifters' line-up was solidified one song later as Grammy-award-winning singer/songwriter Patty Griffin came out for "No Bad News" and "Standing," a pair of her own songs.

Camara and Griffin came and went throughout the show, but the band was at its strongest when they were present to expand the sound.

This was especially evident as the group brought new life to a pair of Led Zeppelin songs. Griffin and Plant's voices meshed perfectly on the folksy "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp," and Camara began a completely overhauled version of "Black Dog" with a lengthy kologo solo.

Plant ended the proper set with a cover of John Mayall's "I'm Your Witchdoctor" and a medley that included George Thorogood's "Who Do You Love" and Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" among others.

The band came back for a two-song encore that included "Win My Train Fare Home" and "Gallows Pole," which wrapped up a nearly 90-minute set that ran a musical spectrum from rock 'n roll, blues, and soul to world and Americana.

The audience stood and clapped throughout the encore as an ovation. But it's what Plant did before the encore began that seemed to define the performance.

The singer asked enthusiastically for the house lights to come up – "up, up, up, up, up!" – so that he could see the packed theater. "Is there anybody out there?" he joked as he smiled and soaked in the moment.

It was as if Plant wanted to see if he's still got what it takes to charm a crowd. And that would make sense; it's hard to think of a two-date U.S. tour in relatively small markets (the other city being Clarksdale, Miss.) as much more than a test drive for his brand new band.

Robert Plant may not be as young as he once was. He may not be able to hit the highest levels or hold out the longest notes. And he probably didn't trash whatever hotel room he stayed in.

But the fact that the singer can continue to conjure new projects and mesh well with just about any musician is proof: he's still got it.


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