Robert Plant hosts a Boston hootenanny
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
In the past decade, Robert Plant has fashioned himself into a master interpreter. His records, starting with 2002’s Dreamland, have offered fascinating spins on traditional blues and gospel, as well as the work of idiosyncratic songwriters like Tim Buckley and Skip Spence. On stage, that tradition carries through into his own past, twisting Led Zeppelin classics into bluegrass romps. Plant himself commented through the night on how much he was enjoying “the hootenanny in Boston.”
Plant remarked on that, and how the years blur into each other. On this night in the House of Blues, which in a former life was the Boston Tea Party, a classic venue, Plant and his Band of Joy worked through the annals of traditional blues and folk along with a look through Plant's own past, Zeppelin and solo included.
It certainly felt like a hootenanny. Kicking off with a bluesy “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” Plant was smiling and loose, subtly strutting onstage most of the night. It might sound strange to say that a 62-year-old man with crazy locks of curly blonde hair has aged gracefully, but he has. Where once he was the Golden God in a vest and no shirt in Madison Square Garden, he’s now comfortable in the knowledge that few in rock and roll lore have a shred of his stage presence. He’s charitable with it — bend back the mic here, snap the head forward there, a sly grin after a blue lyric.
But he brings his all on every track. He twisted Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” starting off slowly before the song came crashing back into something more radio recognizable. The gospel “12 Gates to the City” included bits of “Wade in the Water” and, offered with a wink and a nod, “In My Time of Dying.” The evening drew to a close with Plant and the entire band singing “And We Bid You Goodnight” a capella.
For someone who would be able to tour on legend alone if he wanted to, Plant is unusually gregarious with his band. Sprinkled through the middle of the set, Plant gave Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Darrell Scott solo turns at the mic, with Plant himself staying onstage to offer backing vocals and, on Miller’s “Trouble,” some nasty blues harmonica. It was not the typical “let someone else sing so I can go to the bathroom” move, this was integrating the members of his band into the night rather than letting them blend in with the amps.
And there’s why this night worked so well. This Band of Joy, named in homage of the teenage band he occupied before rocketing off with Zeppelin, offers Plant a chance to be himself every night. They allow him to reinvent the songs of his past, explore the work of newer artists (his version of Low’s “Silver Rider” was haunting) and engage with an audience in a much more intimate setting than he would get away were he on a mega-tour with a certain powerhouse band of his past.
Those hoping for a Zeppelin reunion should loosen the grip. Plant is very clearly enjoying himself these days, and it’s hard to see him breaking with this life. In this forum, he is completely free, able to make whatever music suits him in the moment. If he wants to reinvent a classic Zeppelin hard-charger as a folky, banjo-driven throw-down, he’s allowed to do that. With Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and young-ish Jason Bonham, he will be locked into the past, in the same arrangements, recreating records he made as a relative child.
Not that it couldn’t be thrilling — this writer would be first in line to see a reunion show. So while watching Plant and this band might not be a substitute, it is certainly not below par. Plant is making exciting, inventive music in his 60s, and if this night was any indication, he’s having a blast on tour.
I’ll take that level of enthusiasm. As a listener, it’s incredibly rewarding. I can only imagine how it must feel as a musician.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org