Band Of Joy

>> Friday, February 04, 2011

There was a moment of doubt. I'd been thinking about it for months, ever since it was announced: Robert Plant, coming to Charlotte with his latest project, Band Of Joy. The Robert Plant, you know. I don't think you'd have to be a Zeppelin fan to appreciate the guy's a fucking legend at this point, y'know?

But I'm taking a big vacation in March, and maybe that was just an excuse, a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, to borrow an old line from an old Johnny Lydon song. (And if that's an old line, I'm an old man, because the line is younger than I am. The damnedest thing, how that works.) Anyway, so I put off getting tickets, struggling to figure out did I really want to go and all that. And then this week, I realized the show is Monday and I needed to make a damn decision about it.

Well how the hell am I not going to see Robert Plant, the Robert Plant, you know? So I got a kind of cruddy ticket and couldn't help feeling--like everybody probably feels these days--that maybe I was paying too much for it, but I'm going to see Robert Plant (the Robert Plant, you know) Monday.

It's not the ticket price that bites. It's the Ticketmaster price. The cost of the ticket isn't that bad, that's how they get you. It's when you're going through the checkout process that you start seeing the convenience fee and the processing fee and the handling fee and the kick-in-the-crotch fee, and do you want to pay an extra three bucks to print the ticket yourself or seven bucks for the insurance, and did we mention there's a service charge? The fees and surcharges nearly double the ticket price--I mean, I'm actually paying, I think, seventy-eight-and-change for a forty-seven dollar ticket, and I could actually be paying more if I'd decided to get insurance, and of course I'll be paying for parking and booze when I get to the show. Scalpers, at least, are honest; a scalper pretty much just flat out says he's going to fuck you and charge two or three times the face value of the ticket and if you don't like it, here's a paper cup you can press to the coliseum wall.

What might be most galling is just the bait-and-switch feeling of it. I suppose if they just said on the website that tickets were $78.00, the tickets would seem more expensive to start with and wouldn't buy them. But it's a pisser to be invested in the purchase process, screen after screen, and feeling like you can't back out now, you've bought a ticket, even though you haven't given them credit card information and, really, you could abort at any time. And you know this is a crude psychological trick, that Ticketmaster is playing you and counting on you feeling committed even as they double the price of your ticket, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work.

And I really do want to see Robert Plant. So there is that, you know. Did I mention that he's the Robert Plant?

It's funny, as I was buying the ticket and again as I write this, I find myself recalling an ancient ritual that these kids today can't possibly appreciate: how, back in the day, when we wanted to see a band play, we'd have to line up outside the venue or sometimes a record store or wherever tickets were being sold. And sometimes whoever camped out at the store overnight got first dibs, though later on a lot of places would do a lottery thing where a record store employee would come down the line and let people draw for a better or worse position in the line. And then they got really high tech, and you could call in for the tickets, which meant picking up the phone and dialing until you didn't get a busy signal--later on, you could even hit a "redial" button and the phone would dial for you--and you'd stay on the line until you could be told the show was sold out. Or sometimes you actually got tickets; well, somebody must have, because there certainly were a lot of people at some of those shows.

Ah, the days! Sometimes you'd stand in line and meet other fans and hang out and socialize while you waited together, tied by fandom and by the common experience of suffering for your love; or, sometimes, you'd see who else was in the line and wonder what it said about you that these were the kind of people who listened to your band and what was wrong with you? Or maybe that last bit only happened to me, back when I was a teenager and cared profoundly what people thought about me, because teenagers are horribly insecure and arrogant, or at least I was. Teenagers still do that, right? Care too much about things that don't matter and feel devastated and inconsolable over the secret suspicion that the things they care most about might be stupid and irrelevant, which they usually are?

Anyway, getting the ticket made me realize that I'd forgotten to get Band Of Joy last year. I'd heard several tracks on it here and there; particularly memorable was Plant's take on "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down," which it seems Sirius XM's Loft was playing quite a bit late last year. Everything I'd heard had been excellent, and Plant seemed to be in good form, not milking the hard rock/protometal/Zep thing, but doing some folk, blues and roots stuff with a bit of a nicely harrowing alt-rock vibe, gritty reverb-drenched guitars, that kind of thing, but with Robert Plant's (the Robert Plant's) voice over it, which sounded great.

So I meant to get the record last year and I didn't, but one of the things about all this modern technology we have is that not only do you no longer have to go to a record store to buy concert tickets, but you don't even have to go to record stores to buy records anymore. Which, for the record (no pun intended), is sad and I miss record stores, but then again we don't have buggy whip stores anymore, either, all things one day must pass, etc. And as much as I sort of miss record stores in the abstract, in practice, stores in general tend to make me feel vaguely anxious for some stupid neurotic reason. It doesn't help that the last time I actually went into a physical, meatworld, real-live record store, everybody in there seemed young enough to be my barely-legal girlfriend's aborted fetus. I'm sorry; that metaphor was completely uncalled for. And disgusting. But you get the idea, right? I'm too young to walk into a store where a bunch of little kids judge me for buying old people's music by bands that formed in the early 1990s... in my mind; in the real world, I am, in fact, totally old enough to be judged by these slash-haired infants with their piercings and "ironic" retro t-shirts for bands whose breakups I remember being stressed over in the Reagan era, and if I happen to be buying new music, I'm old enough to be a square wannabe.

Though, intellectually, I know that these young punks don't give a rat's ass about my presence, and that these feelings of inferiority are completely irrational and in my head. My intellect is no help, however, because the only thing worse than being the subject of some ridiculous juvenile's withering contempt is being beneath his notice to start with.

My only consolation, when you get down to it, is that someday these kids will be ancient and struggling for relevance, too.

So, where was I? Ah, yes: so I downloaded Band Of Joy from Amazon; one more thing, aside from my screaming inferiority complexes: I bought this album well after all the record stores were closed on the east coast, which is also one of the awesome things about this modern life; I bought this record when I wanted to and I didn't even have to haul my fat ass away from the computer to do it.

Band Of Joy, named after a band Plant was in before he was in Zeppelin, actually, is a hell of a good record. Did I happen to have a chance to mention that when I was raging on about my decrepitude? Like I said earlier, it calls back to Plant's roots, or it manages to do so while being quite a ways away from Plant's roots: it's very much a folk and blues inflected album, but it's also an album where Plant covers Richard Thompson, Townes Van Zandt, Los Lobos and Low, of all things--in fact he covers two songs by the band that basically invented slowcore, "Silver Rider" and "Monkey" from the band's The Great Destroyer, which is also a great record.1 I don't know that it's too surprising that Plant would be digging Thompson, Townes or Los Lobos, but I do have to say there's something a little odd and awesome about the mental image of Plant popping in a Low CD and nodding his head to it.

Plant's joined on the record by a phenomenal backing band, but of course the most-mentionable co-conspirator onboard is probably Patty Griffin, who shares vocal duties with Plant and is a helluva awesome counterpoint. That's especially evident, I think, on the aforementioned "Monkey"; Sub Pop's site (Low's record label) offers up a Rolling Stone quote that I can't top:

Plant sings "Monkey" almost as a whisper. "It’s a suicide/Shut up and drive," he snarls, in what sounds like the opening scene of a David Lynch film. It’s as menacingly restrained as anything he’s ever uttered.


Well, I wouldn't call it a "snarl" so much as I'd call it a "sinister croon," but the rest of it is pretty spot-on: "Monkey" could be the soundtrack for a scene that was deleted from Lost Highway because it was too weird.2 The song is menacing, on-edge and reined-in, and then it has this wonderful thing going on from country guitarist Buddy Miller that sounds sort of like The Edge trying to play a My Bloody Valentine riff--I mean it's really cool stuff.

Here's the band performing it in Dublin last year:






The whole record's not like that, though it would be great if it was. This is an album of Plant and some friends doing a bunch of songs he likes--there's only one original on the record, a composition with Miller called "Central Two-O-Nine," and I don't know if the guy's ever sounded better. It's pretty easy to understand why he's kiboshed Jimmy Page's attempts to flog Zeppelin one more time--why go back to what you were doing thirty, forty years back when you're obviously having a damn good time doing whatever the hell you're interested in at the moment?

Of course, if he wants to play a couple of Zep tunes Monday, who's going to be disappointed? But one suspects that if he does, it's going to be coming from a place of "Why the hell not?" and not a place of "Must cover the high points." The high points, happy to say, are the songs he's playing with the new band.

If you're not going to have a chance to see Plant live, or (understandably) don't want to give a pint of blood to Ticketmaster, at least pick up Band Of Joy. Amazon is selling the record for less than eight bucks. You can have it on your hard drive in the next five minutes, and it's a damn good record, you know?




1I really, really want to mention that several years ago I saw Low open with a great set for Wilco, who in turn did an amazingly good show, but I don't know the best way to fit it in with an already meandering post, so I'm stuffing it down here along with an endorsement: if you have a chance to see Low and/or Wilco live, please, please, please, you must, you must, you must.

2If you haven't seen Lost Highway that line probably doesn't mean much. Let me put it this way: if you had seen Lost Highway, the idea of a scene being too weird for it would have made your head explode, or at least caused a nosebleed.

A friend of mine hypothesized that Lost Highway was really the greatest vampire movie ever made. Hm. Well, it's as good a theory as any.

Another movie that triggers a lot of explanatory theories from Lynch fans is Mulholland Drive. My theory of Mulholland Drive is this: it was supposed to be a television pilot but the network didn't pick it up so David Lynch shot a bunch of crazy shit to make it long enough to be a feature film. Oh, wait: that's not totally a theory. Well. I actually do like Mulholland Drive, you know, but I think it's a TV episode with some crazy lesbian death hallucination shit grafted onto the end, and I think a lot of the grand unified theories of Mulholland Drive give the thing (and, I hate to say it, the director) too much credit. A David Lynch trainwreck may be a spectacular thing, but a flaming derailed passenger car full of burning people trying to crawl out the windows is still a flaming derailed passenger car full of....

I'm doing that gratuitously vile metaphor thing again, aren't I?




6 comments:

vince Friday, February 4, 2011 at 12:12:00 AM EST  

I might point out that Low is from Duluth, MN, just down the road (about two hours) from me, where there's a wonderful, thriving live music scene. I saw Low play a number of times at the leading (though not by any means the only, or only good) music venue in Duluth, Beaner's Central.

Eric Friday, February 4, 2011 at 12:36:00 AM EST  

I knew Low was from Minnesota, wasn't sure if you'd seen 'em, Vince; that's pretty damn cool.

Random Michelle K Friday, February 4, 2011 at 8:31:00 AM EST  

I saw Robert Plant when he was on tour in, what? '91? I took my brother, who was still in high school, and it was an all around FABULOUS experience.

There are some musicians who have amazing live shows. He's one of them. (Tom Petty is another.)

Random Michelle K Friday, February 4, 2011 at 8:33:00 AM EST  

And I keep listening to Robert Plant & Alison Kraus over and over, which is AMAZING.

Steve Buchheit Friday, February 4, 2011 at 8:49:00 AM EST  

It's all those extras that get me, and why I no longer go and see liver performances anymore. Which is sad.

The capper was walking to the State Theater, through the cold, to buy tickets to the play, from the ticket window, to be charged a $3 a piece "convenience fee."

"But I'm hear at your box office?"

"Yeah, but we printed the ticket for you?

"Could I get in without a printed ticket?"

"No."

"Could I print the ticket myself?"

"No."

(insert about five minutes of this insanity)

"So, basically, the ticket is priced $3 below the actual ticket price."

"No, it's just a convenience fee."

Last time I bought a ticket to a live performance. Not to mention that some of our local venues you can now only buy through Ticketmaster or some other service. And get bent over on fees.

As least the museums haven't tried that yet (and I certainly like being a member; walk up, show my card, get handed tickets with a "Thank you, sir.").

WendyB_09 Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 12:37:00 PM EST  

I was channel surfing late last night, and hit Letterman just as he announces his next guest...Robert Plant. Got me hooked. After an interview segment, the band of the night was Band of Joy. Glad I stayed up late.

Saw Plant about a decade or so ago when I was working at an amphitheater, good show. Have a great time Monday!

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