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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Robert Plant and the Band of Joy @ The Riverside Theater

April 11, 2011

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Though he's had an active solo career since, including a Grammy-winning album with Alison Krauss, it would be hard to talk about any show involving Robert Plant without talking about Led Zeppelin. It's the elephant in the room. As much as any other band, Zeppelin defined the 1970s. They were the connective tissue between the blues, psychedelia, hard rock and heavy metal. They trashed hotel rooms, were hailed by critics and sold hundreds of millions of records.

Now, in 2011, Plant and his new group, Band of Joy (also the name of their 2010 album as well as Plant's pre-Zeppelin band with drummer John Bonham), are also a huge draw, easily selling out a large venue like the Riverside Theater at an average of about $50 a seat.

Somewhat predictably, those seats were filled by a mostly older audience, and as they loudly voiced their approval of the openers, the North Mississippi All-Stars (a white-boy blues duo that was merely OK despite wrenching some interesting sounds from a washboard and a cigar box guitar), it was hard to imagine that same crowd 35 years ago, pickled in Jack Daniel's and LSD, banging their heads to "Immigrant Song."

Perhaps to assuage the obvious desire for Zeppelin nostalgia, Plant and company opened with a bluegrass redux of "Black Dog," before embarking on a long set of newer originals, as well as a few covers from the likes of Low and Townes Van Zandt. Always known as a powerhouse of a frontman, Plant has mellowed a bit with age. He's still got charisma and presence, but he also seemed determined to step back and let his band mates share the spotlight, occasionally fading into the wings to sing backup as guitarists Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller stepped in to take the lead.

The crowd appeared to love every minute of it, although it was a little confusing how, seemingly of one mind, they collectively decided to sit rather than stand halfway through the show. Of course everyone was back on their feet the minute the band launched into "Houses of the Holy" and "Ramble On," before closing with, of all things, a cover of Dylan's "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall." Plant seemed at home with the material; even the requisite Zeppelin songs didn't feel forced or obligatory. One got the sense that Plant was doing exactly what he wanted, something you can't say of every aging rocker of his generation.
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