Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters – Surf Ballroom – Clear Lake IA – September 23rd 2019

9/23/2019 Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters @ Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa

When I first heard that Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters would be playing the legendary Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, I knew I had to go. However, I didn’t know how quickly it would sell out, which was in minutes. The tickets were so hard to get that I traveled to Clear Lake, Iowa without knowing if I would even be able to buy a ticket since the Surf Ballroom only can only hold 2100 people.” Luckily I was able to get tickets for it and it was very much worth it! The venue is legendary, but for a very unfortunate reason. It is the last place that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the “Big Bopper” played before their plane (piloted by local Roger Peterson) crashed in a field just outside of Clear Lake, Iowa, killing everyone on the plane.  After the song  “American Pie” by Don McClean was released, the day of the plane crash was known as the ‘day that music died’ and the first huge loss of innocence that young people in the 1950s experienced. Because Buddy Holly not only played guitar, but wrote his own songs (most people at the time didn’t.) Buddy Holly inspired many future musicians and future legends. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were big fans of Buddy Holly and came up with the name The Beatles as an homage to Buddy Holly’s band ‘the Crickets.’ It turns out that Robert Plant was a big Buddy Holly fan too and wanted to play the historical Surf Ballroom and Museum in Iowa because of its history. He is such a big fan that when I saw Robert Plant leaving the front of the venue, I saw him take a picture of the Surf Ballroom’s marquee (that had Robert Plant’s name on it) right before security whisked him away.

The opening act for the sold-out concert was Lillie Mae who is a singer, guitar and fiddle player and Misa the Bear who plays guitar and also sings. They set up the night really well with just the two of them. In what I think was a change from their original set list, the duo also played the song “Donna” made famous by Ritchie Valens 60 years earlier.  Fun fact, I was fortunate enough to meet her dad before the show and he is almost a dead ringer for (a younger) Robert Plant.)

I saw Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters back in February 2018 at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They played a few Led Zeppelin songs, but it was mostly his solo work that was being showcased. This concert, however, was mostly Led Zeppelin music which delighted the sold out crowd. Right off the bat, the band started playing a song I didn’t recognize until Plant started singing. I then quickly realized they were playing a slightly different arrangement of the song “When the Levee Breaks.” After the song was I over I was thinking to myself “I’ve seen  Robert Plant perform ‘When the Levee Breaks” in person…I can die now.” It was a bucket list item that I never dreamed of being on my bucket list because I never thought it would ever happen since Plant doesn’t play a lot of Led Zeppelin songs anymore. The rest of the Led Zeppelin songs they played consisted of classics such a as “Black Dog”, “Going to California”, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, “What Is and What Should Never Be”, and the amazingly played “Ramble On.” Occasionally they played some of Robert Plant’s recent solo work such as the middle-eastern inspired song “Carry Fire”. He also played another beautiful song from that album called “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” that was originally written by Ritchie Valens whom Robert said was one of his favorite singers from that era. The classic Robert Plant song “I’m in the Mood” was a fan favorite that was also played that a bit of a 1950’s vibe to it.

Toward the end of the concert, Robert Plant mentioned that usually you are supposed to be done touring for a new album after a couple of years, but Plant colorfully that ‘he wants to keep going’ and I hope they do..

The Sensational Shape Shifters consist of Robert Plant, John Blease in drums, guitarist “Skin” Tyson, bassist Billy Fuller, Justin Adams also on guitar, and keyboardist John Baggott.

Review and photos by Todd Johnson