Robert Plant And The Band Of Joy, Ovens Auditorium, February 7, 2011

>> Tuesday, February 08, 2011

I cannot believe I almost didn't go to this show.

Or, as I tweeted immediately after, waiting for the crowd to clear and traffic in the parking lot to thin out:

THAT. Was. Fucking. Amazing.


Which it was. Plant slid out onto the stage as if his pointed boots were waxed while The Band Of Joy, a sort of Americana/roots supergroup reincarnation of the band Plant was in before Led Zeppelin launched into a wickedly sinuous version of Zeppelin's "Black Dog" with overtones of alt-country and Buddy Miller avoiding that famous guitar riff in favor of something a bit more reminiscent of The Edge circa 1985 or so. And the awesome kept coming and coming, I must have been smiling like a madman the whole fucking time as The Band Of Joy kept bringing it.

This was the finest show I've seen a long time. I'm trying to think of the last concert I saw that was this good. Wilco, a number of years ago? I don't think the last Springsteen show I saw was this good (and the last Springsteen show I saw was very good).

A relevant digression. I don't know if you've heard--it seems improbable you missed it and surely it won't surprise you if you did--but Jimmy Page has been making noise the past several years about bringing Zeppelin back and flogging that old warhorse at least one more time. And Plant has ranged from noncommittal to saying it could happen to saying it definitely won't, and that's led to silliness like Alice "I Was Relevant When It Took A Lot Less To Scare Parents" Cooper1 criticizing Plant for "playing 'folk music'."

But here's a bit of bitter truth: think of it this way--you're Robert Plant, and you have a choice between going out with a couple of people you were practically married to forty years ago, playing songs you could sing in a coma the same old way Jimmy Page and 30,000 arena fans expect you to, or you can hang out with a bunch of people who are (let's face it) much better musicians and play whatever the fuck you want to for relatively intimate auditorium crowds and practically no baggage attached. Is Jimmy Page going to let you do a rockabilly version of "Rock And Roll" or close the show with a six-part harmony a cappella number? Are the Zeppelin fans going to cheer just as loud and sing along when you slip to the back of the stage to do backing harmonies on an old country song?

All of which happened the other night, in case you couldn't figure that out.

Two of the things that were really thrilling about that setlist were, one, that the Zeppelin numbers--of course he did a half-dozen Zep songs, Zeppelin may be the past but the past is never dead--didn't feel obligatory, which is what you might expect from someone in Plant's position, and, two, that the fact that Band Of Joy really is a kind of supergroup gives Plant a great reason not to be always-the-frontman. As to the first, it really did seem like the Zeppelin songs were picked because they were fun to do and the band could find something really special, and not that they were added to the setlist because, hey, it's the lead singer of Led Zeppelin. I've mentioned the alt-country and rockabilly takes on "Black Dog" and "Rock And Roll"; "Tangerine" became a reason to get down-home folksy and "Houses Of The Holy" could have been a Fairport Convention song, the way the band took it, and "Gallows Pole" became a sort of psychedelic folk jam--I'd compare it to something The Grateful Dead might do if I didn't really hate The Dead and love what Band Of Joy did with the song last night.

And as to the second: it might seem odd that some of the highest points of a Robert Plant show were moments where Plant stepped to the back so that Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott and Patty Griffin could shine like 20,000-watt lights while Plant did harmony background vocals or played a bitchin' harmonica solo during a bridge. But you have to remember, if it's possible to even forget, that these folks "backing" Plant are headliners in their own right, first of all, and second of all that doing a really good harmony vocal is, I think, harder than just stepping out front. The frontman (or woman) can often make up for a lack of vocal ability with a certain amount of charisma and/or bravado, and we could certainly do up a list of fantastic lead singers who can't actually sing. The great harmony vocalist finds a place in a song that doesn't overshadow the lead but it would break your heart if it were dropped from the mix--the great harmony vocal, if you'll allow me to mix senses for the metaphor--is the art of being seen invisibly. And the primary vocalists in Band Of Joy (though everybody sings at some point, even drummer Marco Giovino and bassist Byron House) are all fabulous harmony vocalists, even (and this is a pleasant surprise, really) Plant.

Which brings us, maybe to the great joy of The Band Of Joy: that if it's a showcase for Robert Plant more than a showcase for the incredible musicians touring with him, then it's a showcase for an old dog demonstrating a love for all the new tricks he can still learn. I wasn't the only one grinning madly during the show: Plant spent much of the show smiling a smile that was visible high up in the cheap seats where I was. Ultimately, The Band Of Joy lives up to that name even when performing something as devastated as Low's "Monkey" or apocalyptic as Richard Thompson's "House Of Cards"--a band, really a band, that seemed to feel as much pleasure as they gave.

A helluva good show.




The Band Of Joy blew away everything in its path, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent set from the opening act, The North Mississippi Allstars, or two of them at least (the band is normally configured as a power trio, but last night it was just the Dickinson brothers on guitar and drums). It was a solid performance and easily would have headlined a slightly smaller venue, and I'd say they're worth checking out if you have a chance to see them, though I think I was a bit more impressed with drummer Cody Dickinson than I was with guitarist Luther Dickinson; don't get me wrong, Luther is a hell of a good guitar player, it's just that there are a lot more hell-of-a-good-guitar-players mining Delta Blues riffs than there are really good drummers, and Cody Dickinson is a really good drummer. I probably could have listened to Cody Dickinson solo for twenty or thirty minutes. Anyway, it was a good opening set.








1I kid. A little. Alice Cooper is awesome. Was awesome. Is someone whose music and schtick I'm very fond of, put it that way, and I absolutely crank his shit up when I'm in the car and it comes on the radio, even some of the crappier stuff from the '80s and '90s and not just classics like "I'm Eighteen." But come on, we all know--surely Alice Cooper knows, even--that Alice Cooper is to Robert Plant as a laser pointer is to the Death Star turbolaser. Alice Cooper you can entertain a cat with. Robert Plant destroys worlds.


5 comments:

Carol Elaine Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 5:04:00 PM EST  

Turns out they're coming to L.A. just before my birthday. And I lurve Patty Griffin. Hmmm...

Eric Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 8:22:00 PM EST  

You really need to see them if you can, CE. They're seriously great.

DOMINICK GENNARO Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 9:48:00 PM EST  

I REMEMBER WHEN I SAW HIM BUYING A TEE SHIRT OFF OF CENTRAL PARL WEST AND I CALLED OUT ROBERT ANTHONY AND HE REMEMBERED ME AND ACTUALLY CAME OVER TO MY CAR AND TALKED WITH ME FOR SEVERAL MINUTES HOW GREAT WAS THAT AND STILL TODAY NOBODY BELIEVES ME I HAVE A TEE SHIRT WITH A PICTURE I TOOK WITH ME AND PLANT AND HIS PERSONALIZED AUTOGPRH ON THE BACK I WEAR TO ALL HIS SHOWS AND PEOPLE GET A BIG KICK OUT OF IT HE WAS ALWAYS SO NICE TO ME AND YOU CAN ALSO SEE ME IN THE FRONT ROW WHEN THEY FILMED THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME I ALSO GOT JOHN BOHNAMS AUTOGRAPH THAT YEAR TOO BONZODOMGENNARO@AOL.COM

Eric Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 11:38:00 PM EST  

A cool story, Dominick, thanks for sharing it with us! Plant sounds like a pretty cool guy.

Anonymous,  Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 11:19:00 PM EST  

I caught the Asheville show and you're right, it was the best show I've seen in many years. Many years. I have kicked myself repeatedly for not going to see them again in Charlotte. This is vibrant new music performed to perfection by consumate artists. Do whatever you have to do and go see these guys.

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