Robert Plant and the Band of Joy
Hard Rock Live, Hollywood
Thursday, April 14, 2011
While some '70s rockers are on the county fair circuit doing their best impersonations of their '70s selves (who were then doing impersonations of Robert Plant), Robert Plant is still evolving. As the gold fades from his hair, it only becomes richer in his spirit, and it shines powerfully in the Band of Joy, his new (old) project, which is rooted in Americana but is by no means straight-ahead. The sound is down-home yet exotic and fresh and weaves together country and blues with Middle Eastern flavors, dipping into minimal, lo-fi territory as well. The same mystique that made Zeppelin so alluring is present in this band, but the darkness only adds dimension to the band's luminous glow. The band completely lives up to its name, and Plant is the soul-smiling heartbeat.
Musically, the band has no weak spots. Rather, there is almost an excess of talent. Three of the five members are multi-instrumentalists -- as is Plant, if you count his washboard and harmonica playing -- and all of them but drummer Marco Giovino are strong singers as well. As a group, they harmonize vocally and instrumentally in such a natural and powerful way that to call it anything short of holy would be to understate its beauty. The band represents a musical maturity that matches the overall presence of Plant. There is no way to arrive at that level of musicianship and performance without devoting decades to your craft.
The night kicked off with a slow, funky version of the Zeppelin classic "Black Dog." Plant was laid back in the thick groove of his band, swinging around the mic stand and delivering his vocals with passion and a grin. He is a wizard. He was flanked by Grammy winner Patty Griffin. The two sang beautifully together and had great stage chemistry, with both of them pulsating and belting out soulful harmonies. Some of the other highlights from the set, which featured mostly songs from the band's self-titled record, included beautiful covers of Richard Thompson's "House of Cards" and "Monkey" by the Minnesota indie act Low. For a few tunes during the set, Plant stepped back and let the other three singers each take the lead. All delivered nicely.
Though the band was basically flawless, there was a big, nasty technical blemish that put the band's composure to the test. During a lovely rendition of the Plant/Page song "Please Read the Letter" -- which was made popular by Plant and Alison Krauss -- there was an extremely loud and horrific noise. The PA had blown. The band continued playing, and Plant began turning the band's monitors out toward the crowd with a chuckle. The crowd rose to its feet and would remain standing for the rest of the show. The band finished the song, and then Plant addressed the audience. "Mama told me never to be profane... but the PA is fucked." He went on talking for a few minutes; then the band turned to a couple of Zeppelin favorites -- "Houses of the Holy" and "Ramble On" -- to close out the set, triumphantly, with the crowd singing along.
The crowd: Rose to the occasion admirably when the shit hit the fan, making it a special moment instead of a bummer.
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Random detail: Robert Plant was sipping tea midsong.
By the way: Fort Lauderdale artist Skot Olson had this to say about Plant (in addition to expressing admiration) when seeing me off to the show: "Too bad he looks like his own grandmother. Those British, they all turn into old women when they get old."