Robert Plant and the Band of Joy performed at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. this week, and luckily I was there. As usual, Robert Plant has surrounded himself with stellar musicians, all of whom he worked with recording the Band of Joy album, and has now taken on tour as well. Plant’s accompanying musicians include Buddy Miller on guitar, Patty Griffin on vocals and rhythm guitar (check out her solo album Flaming Red; it’s great), Byron House on bass, Marco Giovino on drums, and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott. Scott played acoustic guitar, mandolin, electric guitar and banjo within the first five songs and the band took many opportunities to showcase their individual talents, singing a few songs of their own, sharing lead musical efforts, and displaying the immense talents of what is really a supergroup of musicians that Plant has assembled. The Band of Joy is the band that Robert Plant was in before Led Zeppelin, and he has reincarnated the name, to bring the blues music that originally inspired him back to life.
Working with Alison Krauss and T-Bone Burnett on the Raising Sands album led Plant down a road of countrifying, bluesifying and even swampifying his music, which he has continued to pursue on the Band of Joy album and tour. Buddy Miller, a virtuoso guitarist, musician and producer, also worked on Raising Sand and he worked with Plant on the arrangements and music of the album of mostly blues, folk and country covers, some songs stretching back decades before Plant was even starting to think about joining Jimmy Page in the “New” Yardbirds. A lot of bands from the late 60s were influenced by early American blues, and Plant, and of course Led Zeppelin, were no exception. Everyone from Clapton to the Stones to 60s Fleetwood Mac embraced the “British Blues” influence, and Plant, rather than take the $200 Million he and Page were allegedly offered several years ago to “rehash old hits” as Plant put it, has gone back to those original inspirations.
If you see Plant on the Band of Joy tour, you are still going to hear some Led Zeppelin, but it has been reworked, rearranged, and generally made slower and bluesier, obviously to keep it fresh for Plant. Indeed, for Plant, the song is not remaining the same. He performed “Black Dog”, “Gallows Pole”, “Ramble On”, “Tangerine”, and more as well as past solo material, such as the growled-out, slowed down version of “Tall Cool One”, and a bluesy doo-wop version of “In The Mood”. However, a good bit of the music performed was also from the album which included new renditions of old traditional classics that are favorites of Plant, and/or worked with the musical direction that Plant has pursued, like “Angel Dance” a Los Lobos cover, “Harm’s Swift Way” by Townes Van Zandt, or “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday’, a folk music standard from the turn of the century (the 20th century that is).
Regardless, what is brilliant and beautiful about the path Plant has taken is that, whether you prefer country or rock and roll, or even wanted only old Led Zeppelin songs, there’s no way you can be displeased; the whole concert rocked, and did traditional country and rock and roll proud, whether Scott was on banjo, Miller was on electric guitar, or Plant himself was belting out his own powerful notes – leading to a few moments where you have to think, “Ok, well, if he wanted to do Zeppelin again, he sure could.”
However, in a recent interview on www.robertplant.com, Plant was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to scream ‘Immigrant Song’ every night for the rest of my life, and I’m not sure I could.” At 62, Plant obviously feels that course is a musical dead end, and the only way to keep on is to keep on creating something new. The Zep fans, I’m sure, are crushed to hear that, but as long as he keeps on making great music – and putting on killer rock shows – we really can’t complain.
Musichord Rating: 9/10