Robert Plant and Band of Joy
Robert Plant and his Band of Joy played Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium Tuesday evening, an occasion that found the pleased and engaged ex-Led Zeppelin frontman center stage, surrounded by a handful of Nashville’s most valued and inventive musicians.
Acclaimed Austin singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, who often performs and records in Music City, is the only non-Nashvillian in the Band of Joy. Guitar-wielding bandleader Buddy Miller, multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott and a rhythm section of bassist Byron House and drummer Marco Giovino round out the group. Griffin, Miller and Scott have their own solo careers, while Giovino and House are world-class players, established enough to pick and choose the gigs they take.
Plant was midway through “Tall Cool One,” a song from 1988’s Now and Zen album, with the Band of Joy providing a lesson in dynamics and synergy. A grinning Plant established eye contact with each player (especially Griffin, who danced in a shimmering dress to Plant’s left), making clear to musicians and audience alike that this night was not about approximating a Zeppelin show or about rock star poses or about anything other than the throb and sway of the musical moment.
Danny Barnes is, like Miller, Scott and Griffin, a solo artist who occasionally plays in others’ touring bands. Barnes recently wrote a blog entry titled “How To Play In Someone Else’s Band.” “Your number one job above all else is to make the leader sound good, look good and feel good,” he wrote, succinctly and correctly identifying a contributing musician’s ultimate purpose.
Tuesday, Robert Plant sounded good, looked good and felt good. He’s turned down staggering proceeds offered for a Zeppelin reunion in favor of what he feels is a more substantial reward: the ability to explore the music that fascinates him, which at the moment tends to be Americana sounds, rooted in folk and country.
So the Band of Joy show featured a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Harm’s Swift Way,” and traditional folk song “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday.” Plant did not ignore his Zeppelin output, and “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll” and the like were delivered with plenty of force and visceral immediacy. But it was telling that Scott manned a traditional country instrument — a Sho-Bud LDG model pedal steel guitar — rather than a growling Gibson electric in the encore romp through “Rock and Roll.” The Zeppelin version always seemed to be about lifting off to another world, but Tuesday night Plant and his band were more interested in finding earthly grounding.
Though Alison Krauss, Plant’s duo partner for 2007’s Grammy–winning Raising Sand album, was in the room, she didn’t appear onstage. Perhaps a duo reunion would have distracted from the matters at hand. Griffin, Scott and Miller did each take well-applauded solo turns during the evening’s latter half.
“Take me somewhere trouble don’t go,” Miller howled, with House and Giovino providing a rhythmic thunder and Plant playing searing harmonica. But no one needed to journey toward trouble-free environs. They were, emphatically, already there.