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Preview: Robert Plant presents the Sensational Shape Shifters with Lil' Band O' Gold

Noah Bonaparte Pais on the Led Zeppelin frontman performing at the Mahalia Jackson Theater


Rock sagas as long and winding as Robert Plant's can't help but develop some circuity along the way. For example: Their mists lifted and tempers tamed, his Middle-earthbound Led Zeppelin fables — banned out of ubiquitous imitation from every Guitar Center in the Western Hemisphere — now sound perfectly scrutable, some even feckless (poor, neutered "Black Dog"), as reinterpreted by Plant's current touring ensemble, the Sensational Space Shifters, an oracular spectacular that throws together tribal instruments (talking drums, ritti violin) with trip-hop producers (contributors from both Portishead and Massive Attack) as if assembling its genre mashups alphabetically. It's a stark contrast to the precision focus Plant showed in the past five years, in which he found his strongest voice as a solo artist by losing himself in other people's songs: joining opener Lil' Band O' Gold on record (Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino) and Louisiana stages in 2007; harmonizing with Alison Krauss for a honey-dripping, T-Bone Burnett-produced set (Raising Sand) later that same year; and resurrecting his Band of Joy for 2010's naturalistic folk covers album (with selections from Townes Van Zandt to Low), followed by a midnight-marauding Preservation Hall lock-in during Jazz Fest 2011. The Sensational Space Shifters are a talented batch, and Plant clearly has plenty left in the tank. But playing second-fiddle Zoso while Jimmy Page waits by the phone seems like an epic rock tragedy, the balance between what is and what should never be. Tickets $49.50-$69.50. — Noah Bonaparte Pais

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