Robert Plant & The Band of Joy–Live @ The Fox

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A concert at Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox also provided an opportunity for my concert buddy and I to revisit The Book House Pub pre-show.  This a little treasure of a bar, with only one TV screen (usually tuned to a movie), a lengthy bar, a wide variety of bottled and draught beers, a knowledgeable staff, and great food.  This is the perfect bar for food, beverage variety, and audible conversation. 

Greeted and assisted in an easy, welcoming manner by Cassie, I shortly enjoyed a Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale and a burger topped with pimento cheese.  Their burgers aren’t simply reliable; they qualify as “shouldn’t be missed.”  Other than being far from my usual commute, I don’t know why I don’t go to The Book House Pub more often.  (Tip: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Ignore the cracked parking lot and the rather derelict outward appearance.  It’s nice inside).

On to the show, at Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theater.  The opening act, the North Mississippi All-Star DUO, wasn’t quite what I expected.  I’d seen them some years ago also opening for another act, and they had left an impression of “Wow.”  For one, they were a more complete band with bassist and “marching fifes,” but their performance was fresh, raw, and interactive.  Lead singer/guitarist Luther Dickinson has an okay blues voice, but he spoke even more loudly with his exceptional “it looks so easy everyone should be able to do that” slide guitar work.  It was a great introduction to the band.

Here, with only brother (and drummer) Cody in tow, they still created an energetic set. Luther’s hands roamed the frets filling in any sonic voids that might have occurred without band mates.  But, the songs they chose felt hurried and didn’t quite connect, even though the guitar work was, as expected, very good.  This many years into their music, I would have expected a set of songs aimed at quickly making new fans.  Still, there are tons of worse opening acts, as NMA qualified as an extra value to the ticket.

And that ticket was for Robert Plant and the Band of Joy.

Best known, and hopefully obviously best known to the reader, as the singer for Led Zeppelin, I’ve followed his solo career more closely over the past 10 years.  His work has been more interesting as he has foregone work that might receive airplay to music which either influenced him or inspires him now.  Recently, Plant has moved towards reinterpreting older American music, as evidenced by Raising Sand, his collaboration with Alison Krauss, and his most recent release, Band of Joy

It can be said that Robert Plant enters the stage with a towering presence.  For one, he’s not just taller than his band mates, he’s tall.  His lengthy curled hair is no longer golden, but even the darker shades speak of authentic Rock legend.  He commands the stage easily, inviting audience participation with simple gestures.  While other IMG_4170stars of his generation may pause to legitimately soak up a crowd’s celebrity acclaim (McCartney, for example), Plant clearly prefers living in the present and performing the music that his band is playing.  It’s impossible not to be aware of the history he brings, as he continues to sing with his familiar cross-legged delivery while grasping the entire microphone stand. 

That’s not to say the he doesn’t give more obvious tribute to the past.  The opener, Led Zep’s “Black Dog,” let it be known that the band may be from Nashville, but Plant requires that they understand a rock attitude is possible, and not just in his back catalog. 

For those looking for them, there were a surprising number of Zeppelin songs, and while they clearly measured as crowd favorites, the band didn’t get suckered into replaying them as they have been so often heard.  Instead, they created a mood and tone around each song that fit in with most of the other songs of the evening.   The most reminiscent was “Ramble On,” which delivered Plant’s full throated delivery, but the band gave it their own sound, with a pedal steel solo and guitarist Buddy Miller’s more tonal licks. 

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“Gallows Pole” and “Tangerine” are acoustic driven Led Zep songs that fit naturally into the overall mix of songs.  If anyone in the audience was unaware of their place in Zeppelin’s catalog, these songs might have been regarded as other unfamiliar treasures like others in the set.  They were crafted with care by the band and were certainly highlights of the evening.

When one thinks of roots music or Americana music, there may be an expectation of relatively low volume, acoustic, and slow songs.  That was certainly not the case.  Though there were rockers in the mix, a rock edge was found in many of the other songs as well.  Even the spiritual songs were performed with a tonal weightiness about them.

That tonal influence is largely from the contributions of guitarist Buddy Miller.  He is known as an alt-country musician, playing music that sounds traditional or timeless but doesn’t quite fit into commercial categories.   Even when not playing the lead, his hands usually stayed low on the neck of the guitar, extending up to the middle during most of the solos.  Other guitarists may have sought an emotional peak for the expected rock crescendos, but he kept the guitar to a lower, darker tone that was pervasive in most of the songs.

This isn’t to say that his guitar work was predictable or lacking in variety.  Aside from a variety in guitars, he also doesn’t limit himself to just a few guitar pedals.  I would suspect that playing with Robert Plant was a stylistic challenge based on his past solo and session work, and it’s one that paid off.  Like all the other musicians here, he sings well, and I’d definitely catch one of his solo shows should he pass through.

Darrell Scott played acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel, and mandolin, lending much of the “roots music” feel to the evening.  Adding a welcome blend to the vocals and the overall sound, singer Patty Griffin gave ample support of the roots genre, either while in backing or lead parts. 

Plant is also a very accommodating band leader.  In addition to letting three band mates sing lead vocals, he steps to the rear, singing backup, or on “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go,” adding a driving harmonica.

The set list varies each night to some extent.  Based on others I’ve seen, most of the variety comes from the songs they choose from their most recent CD.  The only misfire to my ears was “In the Mood,” one of his 80’s radio “hits” that didn’t lend itself well to the current band.  Amongst all  available songs (of Plant’s or unknown to me), it was a disappointment.  If keeping with a song from his solo releases, “Darkness, Darkness” would have been a stellar insertion.

Lastly, for wondering about Plant’s vocal quality, he’s definitely worth seeing.  At 63, his voice has aged, but he plies it to each song with nuances and affection that he either lacked or didn’t find necessary all those years ago.  The result is that many of the songs connect because of the intimacy of his somewhat raspier voice.   He’s an phenomenal performer, an experienced interpreter of music, and a distinctive voice in music.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Set List:

Black Dog

Down to the Sea (much improved over original version)

Angel Dance

Houses of the Holy

Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down

Move Up (sung by Patty Griffin)

Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday

Life Has It’s Little Ups and Downs

Twelve Gates to the City/Wade in the Water/In My Time of Dying

Satisfied Mind (sung by Darrell Scott)

Tangerine

House of Cards

Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go (sung by Buddy Miller)

Monkey

You Can’t Buy My Love

Ramble On

Tall Cool One

Gallows Pole

Encores:

In the Mood

Rock & Roll

And We Bid You Goodnight (a cappella)

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