So there he was, one of the legendary hedonistic rock stars of all time, standing at the front of the stage bathed in red light, singing about Satan. Only now, Robert Plant is performing a song about Satan’s destruction.
What a strange and wonderful career Plant has had—certainly the most productive and fulfilling of any of his former Led Zeppelin bandmates. He’s changed his sound effortlessly over the years to suit his ever-curious musical inclinations. At 62, Plant has found yet another muse in America’s traditional music, the stuff of Tennessee mountains and Mississippi riverbeds. It started in 2007 with his unlikely but sublime pairing with Alison Krauss, and continues today with his own Band of Joy, an all-American all-star cast.
Plant brought the Band of Joy to D.C. Tuesday night for an intimate gathering (for him, anyway) at Constitution Hall. The nearly two-hour set was a countrified showcase of Plant’s entire career, from his work with Zeppelin through his solo stuff and, of course, several selections from his excellent new release, 2010’s eponymous “Band of Joy.”
The Band was more rambunctious than Plant’s last time in the D.C. area with Krauss and T-Bone Burnett, but not as much as I expected. Plant kept himself in check for much of the night, only occasionally letting rip with his Golden God howl (which is still in fine form). He was clearly pleased to be onstage with the likes of Buddy Miller (lead guitar/vocals) and Patty Griffin (vocals), as he meshed with instead of sang over them. In fact, some of the best songs of the night came when Plant moved to the back of the stage and let his bandmates take the lead, most notably a wonderful version of “Satisfied Mind” with multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott out front. Plant’s harmonica work on Miller’s bluesy “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” was fun, as well.
Though Plant didn’t choose my two favorite songs off “Band of Joy” for this particular night (“The Only Sound That Matters” and “Central Two-O-Nine”), he still showcased why this latest effort really is such a joy. Highlights included the silky smooth “Harm’s Swift Way,” the slow burn of “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday,” and “House of Cards,” which ends with Plant, Griffin, and Miller harmonizing at full throat.
Plant chose three songs from his solo career; two of them—“In the Mood” and “Tall Cool One”—were fantastic, while “Down to the Sea” was just OK and killed a bit of the momentum early in the show. “In the Mood” was slowed down to an elegiac chant, while “Tall Cool One” brought all the flair you’d expect.
But, let’s be clear here, the best selections of the night were, of course, the Zeppelin tracks, all of them reworked into classic Americana.
The show opened with a stripped-bare version of “Black Dog” similar to the one Plant revamped for his shows with Krauss, with perhaps a half-step up in intensity. “Tangerine” was as beautiful as you’d hope it would be, while the Band allowed Plant to embrace the folk roots of “Ramble On” and “Gallows Pole” with more strength than their original incarnations. “Rock and Roll,” meanwhile, was transformed into a honky-tonk juke joint stomper. And Plant made my night by including a verse from “In My Time of Dying” into his medley of spirituals with Patty Griffin.
My favorite Zep track of them all, though, was a total surprise: “Houses of the Holy” has never been one of my upper-tier songs, but Plant’s rootsy reworking of it with the Band of Joy turns it into a masterpiece. He slows it down and allows Miller to give it a pure country ballad flair that builds into a spectacular final minute where the Band really kicks in and lets loose, spurring one of Plant’s most impassioned performances of the show. It’s wonderful stuff, and I encourage you to check it out below:
It seems to be fashionable in the blogosphere these days to undermine Plant’s work with Krauss, but you’ll never hear that from me. I missed her presence at this show, even if it did allow Plant to expand his horizons even further. But I continue to watch in amazement at the transition Plant’s made these past few years. He’s experiencing a career resurgence the likes of which most artists his age could never dream of. He could go out and make a bazillion dollars touring with Led Zeppelin, but instead he’s content and excited to play challenging little shows in venues like Constitution Hall.
The magic didn’t last with Krauss, which saddens me. Here’s hoping Plant can keep this Band of Joy together for awhile, because if Tuesday’s concert is any indication, they have a lot of potential left to explore.
Robert Plant and the Band of Joy
D.A.R. Constitution Hall
Down to the Sea
Houses of the Holy
Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down
Move Up (Patty Griffin)
Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday
12 Gates to the City/Wade in the Water (Griffin)/In My Time of Dying
Satisfied Mind (Darrell Scott)
Harm’s Swift Way
House of Cards
Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go (Buddy Miller)
You Can’t Buy My Love
Tall Cool One
In the Mood
Rock and Roll
And We Bid You Goodnight
Show Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes