The guy selling merchandise in lobby said it’s the smallest venue he’s worked in 27 years and even then there were gaps on the floor where the crowd gathered a meter from the stage. But for Øistein Rosen, a Kristiansund resident traveling with his wife and six others to see Led Zepplin frontman Robert Plant play the first of two gigs in Longyearbyen, the high cost of both the trip and the tickets compared to the legend’s other gigs during his current tour in Norway was perfectly cool.
“It’s special because it’s a small venue,” he said, noting he first became a Led Zepplin fan in 1970, but has never heard the band or Plant perform live.
Rosen said he favors Plant’s older music from his most famous days, but the more diverse range performed with the Sensational Space Shifters band formed in 2012 “is quite a different angle now, but it’s very good.”
The remote location and small crowd of about 175 people in a space for more than twice that on Thursday night (and tickets are still available for Saturday night) obviously didn’t escape Plant’s notice, who joked after the first couple of songs “we booked a flight to Timbuktua” (which might have gotten a bigger draw since the ancient city has more than 50,000 residents, compared to less than 2,300 in Longyearbyen).
“I’ve been to bigger weddings than this,” he quipped after a couple more songs. While pondering what to add to that a bandmate quickly chimed in “thank you for coming.”
But while the volume was also obviously less than the major auditoriums Plant plays in major cities, the intensity and stagemanship observed in those shows seemed very much present in Svalbard. While the setlist was light on Zepplin tunes – which admittedly got the biggest cheers – nearly all of the “newish” material (some dating back nearly 20 years) got some cheers of recognition during the opening notes. Songs were a mix of driving rock by the group interspaced with plenty of long openings – and entire tunes – playing up the instrumental talents of Plant’s bandmates.
The crowd also was fully engaged in cheers, claps and sing-a-longs at the appropriate moments, prompting Plant to offer more upbeat feedback as the evening progressed.
“There’s so much energy in this room it’s insane,” he said about 75 minutes into a gig whose main setlist lasted 85 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of encores after the crowd dutifully broke into loud chants of “we want more.”