Page-Plant Reunion Rocks, Laurie Anderson Intrigues
NEW YORK — Jimmy Page and Robert Plant
At Meadowlands Arena.
'Are you ready to rock?'' singer Robert Plant yelled to the sold-out Meadowlands Arena. When the crowd shouted in the affirmative, one of Plant's fellow musicians walked to the front of the stage and proceeded to perform a blistering instrumental solo on ... the hurdy-gurdy?
Plant helpfully explained that the instrument was developed more than 900 years ago in France, and if music-history lessons seemed a bit strange coming from the former lead singer of the rock band Led Zeppelin (which used to tear arenas apart) it reflected an adventurousness and a willingness to expand musical horizons that has made the Plant-Page reunion tour more than just another dinosaur band on the road.
They have paid a commercial price for their daring. While their new album, ''No Quarter'' (Atlantic) has sold a million copies and the tour is a consistent sell-out, their sales figures and box- office grosses pale next to a band like the Eagles, which has done little more than re-create its old sound with uncanny precision.
Plant and Page, who did not invite their old bandmate, John Paul Jones, to join them for either the album or tour, are in the midst of their first tour in 16 years; they have participated in one-shot reunions at such events as Live Aid and the Atlantic Records 40th-anniversary bash.
But the years have not dimmed their vitality. From the moment they hit the stage, with Plant doing his trademark whirling-dervish spin, they rock the house. They use their long-held enthusiasm for multicultural music to give the old Led Zep classics a new spin with fresh, internationally flavored arrangements. The music doesn't quite have the same visceral punch that it had in the old days, but it seems newly vital.
The pair are deliberately avoiding most of the familiar songs: There's no ''Stairway to Heaven,'' ''Whole Lotta Love,'' or ''Rock 'n' Roll'' in either the album or show. But they do rip through other songs from their past with abandon. Plant still displays his banshee wail, and Page continually dazzles on his twin-necked guitar, displaying the instrumental virtuosity and dynamic inventiveness that have made him a guitar legend. They are accompanied by Charlie Jones on bass, Port Thompson (from the English band the Cure) on second guitar, and Michael Lee on drums. The concert also features members of the City of Birmingham and New York Symphony Orchestras, and an Egyptian ensemble on percussion and strings.
The show, like the new album, ends with a lengthy version of the classic ''Kashmir,'' a song that particularly benefits from the world-beat arrangements. It was a stunning conclusion to a performance that defied nostalgia.
At the Neil Simon Theatre.
Performance artist Laurie Anderson has always been a multimedia performer, and no more so than now. She currently has two CDs out (both on Warner Bros.); ''Bright Red'' is a music release, while ''The Ugly One With the Jewels and Other Stories'' is a spoken-word album, consisting of stories chosen from her new book ''Stories From the Nerve Bible'' (HarperPerennial). And if that isn't enough, Anderson has just released her first CD-ROM, ''Puppet Motel'' (Voyager), and she's currently on a worldwide tour, performing her first full-scale, multimedia work in five years. ''The Nerve Bible'' tour recently touched down for a week in New York.
The performance, which includes a mixture of music, stories, video, scenic projections, and other special effects, continues Anderson's tendency to combine deadpan irony with social commentary, and reflects her obsession with technology.
It's all very inventive, with a dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness imagery that is as entertaining as it is disorienting. Anderson no longer plays her own body like an electronic percussion instrument, but she is still fond of electronically altering her voice.
But for all her technological sophistication, what was most striking about the performance was how relaxed and jovial Anderson seemed. She seems to be taking herself less seriously.
At one point, she simply recounts her brush with death during a mountain trek in Tibet. It is the most moving moment in the show, and it reveals that Laurie Anderson, even without the computers and special effects, can be a spellbinding storyteller.