Concert review: Robert Plant & Band of Joy with Bettye LaVette at Ruth Eckerd Hall (with photo gallery)

From opening tune, "Down To The Sea" (repeated lyric: "when I get old …") through the finale of "Goodnight," the show was a sedate affair. Yes, the Zeppelin tunes (new takes on "Misty Mountain Hop," "Tangerine," "Rock and Roll," "Gallows Pole" and a few others) seemed to jazz the crowd, but for the most part, the audience stayed seated and drank heavily. (Seriously, folks, you might not have to hit the head so many times if you slow down on double-fisting the merlot.) After an opening stretch that included forthcoming Band of Joy album tracks "Angel Dance" (could have been a Zep III outtake) and Richard Thompson's "House of Cards," Plant pulled out the Walking Into Clarksdale gem, "Please Read The Letter" (previously revived with Krauss on Raising Sand) followed by "Misty Mountain Hop," which provided the first moment where the audience got to their feet and engaged.


Rather than ride the growing energy, however, the Band of Joy followed "Hop" with the Buddy Miller-led tune "Trouble" while Plant blew harp in the background. Yes, it was a good song — and sure, Miller is terrific —but at no point during this show should Plant have faded into the woodwork. Following "Trouble" with "Rich Women" brought back some energy, and "Tangerine" knocked 'em dead two songs later — but then the show hit an oasis of slow, with Plant and the band working through multiple cuts from Band of Joy's forthcoming album, each one seeming to out-slog the next. This culminated after "Silver Rider," with a clearly audible-to-everyone cry of "Pick it up!" from someone in the audience, which Plant followed with the slow-but-at-least-familiar "In The Mood."

Before the audience could fully pass out from boredom, Plant and Co. brought things back around with a nice string of Zep and Plant solo tunes that included reworked takes on "Houses of the Holy," "Over The Hills (And Far Away)," "Tall Cool One" and "Gallows Pole." It was only during "Gallows Pole" that Plant finally pushed his voice, letting out a short wail the likes of which he used to issue at will. The encore included a take on Townes van Zant's "Harm's Swift Way" followed by reworkings of "Thank You" and "Rock and Roll" (the latter now ruined for me by years of repetition in Cadillac ads), and a gospel-tinged adios of "Goodnight."

Look, Robert Plant is a living legend, and getting to see him live, in concert, is the musical equivalent of a visit to Mecca. Plant's Hammer of the Gods days are well behind him (his still-thick mane and a few stage moves the only direct echoes from the past), with the singer now substituting taste for the raw sexual energy of his youth. There is no question that this is the right choice (Plant belting "Whole Lotta Love" in 2010 would be ridiculous), but isn't doing the "right" thing the anti-thesis of rock n' roll? Then again, Plant would probably argue that he ditched the rock n' roll game many moons ago.

If only I had done the same …

More photos by Phil:


I was a complete Zep-head throughout high school and college. Not only did I have all the albums (and all three box sets), I collected somewhere north of half of all the Zeppelin shows available as bootlegs. I still own a heavily dog-eared copy of Luis Rey's Led Zeppelin: An Illustrated Guide to Underground Tapes, which I used to call "the Bible" and could quote from at length without looking. Then life moved on, I found other obsessions, and ditched my numerous Maxell XLIIs sometime about three moves ago. But somewhere deep inside my love of Led Zeppelin still lives, dormant, and now, it seems, destined to never awaken again. At least, that's the impression I got from the Robert Plant's show this past Friday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall. [All photos by Phil Bardi.]

Plant is on tour with a new group called The Band of Joy, that handle itself the name of a very old band — Robert Plant's first, the one he was in when Jimmy Page saw the singer and assumed something was wrong with him because he wasn't already famous for his incredible voice. Plant has made reference in interviews to the old Band of Joy as a psychedelic rock band, yet this latest incarnation (which includes musical aces Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Darrell Scott, among others) plays tunes far more apiece with the recent Plant/Alison Krauss album Raising Sand than say, 1967-era Pink Floyd. In what can only be described as a restful show, Plant led the band through an hour-and-45-minute set of new material, select covers, solo tunes and a few blasts from the Zeppelin past, typically rearranged and stripped of their former, hard-rocking glory.

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