With a tambourine in one hand and what appeared to be a bottle of beer in the other, singer Robert Plant sauntered to the mike, a single beam of light reflecting off his graying, long, curly hair.
"Everyone all right out there?" asked the former Led Zeppelin frontman in that high pitched voice that set the template for all hard rock to come.
But the next sound heard Tuesday night at the Hollywood Palladium was not ear-shattering reverb from an electric guitar or the guttural assault of an expanded drum kit. It was the pluck of a lone banjo.
FOR THE RECORD:
Robert Plant concert: In the Oct. 8 Calendar section, a review of Robert Plant's concert at the Hollywood Palladium referred to Plant's band as the Sensational Shape Shifters. The band is the Sensational Space Shifters. Additionally, the show was one night only, not the first of two shows.
Reaffirming that the ever-adventurous Plant has used his legacy as a launching pad rather than a resting place, the 66-year-old singer and his band the Sensational Space Shifters fused new and old material with bluegrass melodies, Celtic percussion, African fiddle, spooky electronica and mike-stand-twirling rock.
During the 90-minute set, Zeppelin standards were blended with new material off Plant's eclectic album, "Lullaby ... and the Ceaseless Roar."
Since going solo in the early '80s, Plant has cut several small but intriguing paths away from the rock monolith that is Led Zeppelin.
The singer has dabbled in everything from new wave quirkiness to Mideastern dervishes, all the while refusing to embark on what would surely be a more lucrative endeavor: the Zeppelin reunion tour.
He recently told Rolling Stone that a such a move "would have been an absolute menagerie of vested interests and the very essence of everything that's [terrible] about big-time stadium rock. We were surrounded by a circus of people that would have had our souls on the fire. I'm not part of a jukebox!"
On Tuesday night, Plant and company — which included Gambian griot Juldeh Camara on one-stringed African fiddle (riti) and keyboardist John Baggott, who's worked with Portishead — played a relatively intimate show compared to that of classic rock peers such as the Rolling Stones and the Eagles.
Seemingly content with a few deep creases on his face (also unlike his contemporaries), Plant interacted with his bandmates as if they were in a small club while the group played in a tight and informal cluster.
His voice still hits the mark but not the stratosphere, so the new songs don't require Plant to channel his younger, kimono-clad banshee, and on Tuesday he tweaked classic Zeppelin numbers to work with his lower pitch of today.
The fine tailoring paid off as he sang in haunting and nuanced tones over tracks such as the ethereal "Rainbow" and "Pocketful of Golden." The new material also has hints of Plant's ongoing love affair with back-porch blues and misty mountain whimsy, and even contains some of his trademark exclamations ("oh, baby," "ah, ah, ah" and so on).
One of the more telling lines from his new work is in "Turn It Up," a menacing and dark tune. "I'm turning into someone I've heard so much about," he sang. "I'm stuck inside the radio, turn it on and let me out!"
The audience — a collection of headband- and bell-bottom-wearing twentysomethings and those who wore similar outfits decades ago — were willing to oblige, even when Plant messed with songs that are clearly part of their collective DNA.
"Whole Lotta Love" started as a spare blues number, rumbled into the rock song that defined the 1970s, turned into a Celtic jig, went to Africa, then back to a blues tune.
Others such as "Going to California," "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," "Nobody's Fault but Mine" and "No Quarter" were fused with similar doses of eclecticism, but never enough to break down the integrity of the song or the artist who helped make them indelible.
And the infusion of global traditional styles wasn't just sprinkled atop familiar sounds for decoration. Often, it provided the backbone for songs new and old.
The singer and his Space Shifters succeeded in fusing an untouchable legacy with a passion for experimentation. It's no wonder they left the "The Song Remains the Same" off the set list.