Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Robert Plant and the Band of Joy - a Left-Handed Review

WTF is a left-handed review?

I dunno - I just made it up.  It means not your standard review.  Perhaps even inaccurate or just plain weird.

The venue, at least in my house, is public television (On Canvas).  Robert's venue is a war memorial in Tennessee.  He makes it plain from the top that he's really into not being a humongous rock star, repeating it in various ways, such as referencing Madison Square Garden.

If you came for Led Zeppelin, you're S.O.L. - let's get that straight immediately.  The only resemblance to Led Zeppelin would be the lead vocalist.

As for the left-handed review, there were absolutely NO lefties in the band.  Before you get too settled, the cocker spaniel review is that there were no cockers onstage at all, period.  Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's have at the rest of the real review....

This is not your father's Band of Joy.  As I understand it, only the name remains the same, as it were.  For you extremely young ones, the Band of Joy was Robert Plant's band before Led Zeppelin.  For one thing, there are about six of them.  For another, the Plant person is not the exclusive lead vocalist, even heading to the rear for the occasional harp blast.

This is a much more organic band, with a much more organic sound.  Say what you want about Plant, his efforts were always fresh.  It's very difficult to describe the band's overall sound (other than organic?).  Perhaps a touch of country, via all the old stuff Plant channeled.

The most difficult spot in the world is the one directly to the right of Mister Plant, that being the poor beknighted guitar player.  No matter what this guy does, he has to live up to an invisible, omnipresent Les Paul-slinging guitar legend.  This fellow's name is Buddy Miller and he has every reason to be proud of himself.  He did the first two tunes with a Danelectro (baritone?) guitar, tuned incredibly low.  I kept wondering when the bassist was going to clock him for taking up all of his space.

Not entirely sure what the amp setup was but the tones were dark and swampy, with plenty of tweed-y grunge.  Buddy sang a few tunes too, most ably.  There were no `standard' electrics used.  Instead there was the Dano, something that looked like a twelve string electric mandolin, and another Dano; the kind that had the amp in the case, and a Gretsch.  In case you missed him, Buddy looks like an age-progressed version of Wavy Gravy :)

The drummer did a great (organic) job with his smallish kit, which was frequently muffled.  He had all sorts of toys sitting around that made things interesting.

The bassist started with a Precision and migrated to a standup bass.

A petite female called Patty Griffin (from Texas) sang, played guitar, and did a little percussion.  The leather dress was unflattering.  The voice was flattering, in that southern way.

There was another fellow who we'll call Earl, just because I don't like the name.  Every musician who has been in a band has played with Earl.  He's the guy who got in because he talked his way in, definitely because of his talent.  Since nobody wants to hurt Earl's feelings, nobody bothers to tell him how loudly and perfectly he sucks.  So what happens is that when you play out, you instruct the sound man to put a mic up by Earl but never, EVER, turn the mic on, under any circumstances.

Now I'm in no way saying that Robert Plant's Earl is lacking in the talent department.  I could not venture an opinion, largely because I can't hear a single note the poor guy is playing.  The sound man never turned him up.  The only partial noise we get is leakage into Patty's mic.  It's a shame, too, as the guy plays mandolin, guitar, steel guitar, and something that might be called a mandola, only I've never really seen a mandola; I just know it's bigger than a mandolin.

I did not expect to hear Robert Plant and band singing Satisfied Mind, which they did admirably.   An interview segment with Plant mentioned the Zeppelin catalog, after which the band broke into Ramble On and Gallows Pole, in an interesting and fresh way.  They also broke into a rousing rockabilly rendition of Rock and Roll.  No, really.

What Do You Do After Led Zeppelin?

I have to sympathize with Mr. Plant's plight.  He spends forever as the face of arguably the greatest rock and roll band ever.  After a very long break, he does a one-off with the band and is asked to continue.  He refuses and pursues his muse (or something).  You have to give him points for following his vision.

Now let me put my Fan Hat on.

Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever.  Plant et. al. have done some decent work in the post-Zeppelin years, but much like that little outfit from Liverpool, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I was never fortunate enough to see the Zeppelin as a whole: I had to satisfy myself with video and Plant and Page solo tours.  The guys belong together, regardless of other projects.  They need to share themselves with the world, at least while they still have a few of their original hair colors present (sorry, Jimmy).  They all still have it in their own ways, as proved at the O2 concert.  And Jason Bonham is a chip off the old groove.  He has his father's foot.

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