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Robert Plant and The Band Of Joy – The Saenger Theatre, Mobile, AL

28 July 2010 2,898 views No Comment

Pic by James Brosher AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Stubbs)

Robert Plant defies expectations, beautifully, at Saenger show

Review by Lawrence F. Specker, Press-Register at

Robert Plant could say yes to a Led Zeppelin reunion tour, spend a few months singing great songs to adoring throngs and then spend the rest of his life counting his money.

His sold-out Wednesday night show at the Mobile Saenger Theatre made it crystal clear why he’s stuck to a different path, even after a one-off 2007 concert that showed the three surviving members of the band can still bring the old fire to the stage.

Suppose he took liberties with, say, “Misty Mountain Hop” on a Zeppelin tour. He’d have fans by the thousands grousing that he didn’t do it right.

At the Saenger he took liberties and it made for one of the most brilliant moments of an exceptionally satisfying night. The pace was slowed down. The familiar riff was somewhat simplified, though its driving urge seemed only to gain power in the process. The arrangement brought in more folk, even country.

It sounded like the kind of primal rock-surf-rockabilly nugget that Quentin Tarantino likes to dredge up and use in his film soundtracks. It was huge.

But that’s not to say the night was dominated by Zeppelin nostalgia. The set list was salted classic rock, sure: “Tangerine” brought the audience to its feet for a sing-along, a countrified “Houses of the Holy” featured playful guitar quotes from the Joe Walsh classic “Life’s Been Good,” and “Gallows Pole” closed the set.

But in the end, they formed only a quarter or so of the selections. Plant went pretty much wherever he wanted, and covered a lot of ground in the process.

It helped that he had stacked the deck in his favour. His use of the “Band of Joy” name goes back to his pre-Zep days, leading one to believe the supporting players might be interchangeable. But the five-piece line-up he brought to Mobile included Buddy Miller, an acclaimed guitarist (among other skills) who’s played on tours and albums by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. And it also featured acclaimed singer-songwriter Patty Griffin on supporting vocals.

Griffin naturally stood in for bluegrass belle Alison Krauss on a couple of tracks from “Raising Sand,” the multiple Grammy-winning album that has been Plant’s biggest post-Zeppelin success. But she also was instrumental on numerous tracks from the Band of Joy’s eponymous album due out in September. Based on those selections, it appears the disc will have some of the spooky folk quality of “Raising Sand,” but with a grittier, heftier feel to the music.

Plant found time to work in a couple of select tracks from his 1980s solo albums as well.

“This is all a little bit premature,” Plant said of the decision to play so much material from the Band of Joy project before its on-sale date.

Though not especially talkative, the singer did mention that he was overdue for a return to Mobile, given that had been 30-plus years since Zeppelin played the Mobile Civic Centre, then known as the Municipal Auditorium.

And he waxed enthusiastic about Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt who, he said, he had only recently discovered. Van Zandt’s “Harm’s Swift Way,” which will appear on the upcoming album, was the first selection of a four-song encore.

Did the encore contain some Zep? Of course. But the band finished with something else entirely, a bit of a cappella gospel.

And that was just one more thing Plant couldn’t do on that reunion tour so many fans dream of. He seems to understand the value of past successes: Having them is great. Not being a prisoner of them is better.
The night also featured an outstanding opening set from Bettye LaVette, an old-school soul singer who struggled for decades before gaining commercial success and critical acclaim in the last five years or so.

“It is so wonderful to be here with you tonight,” she said, alluding to her long road. “Or as they used to say on the chitin circuit, it’s wonderful to be anywhere.”

LaVette’s eclectic tastes were on full display, her soul vocals backed by a rock band as she interpreted songs by George Harrison, Ringo Starr and George Jones. And she brought the house down with her concluding rendition of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me.”

Few openers have set the stage so well, and few have left it to such powerful ovations.

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