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Concert Reviews:
Robert Plant and band bring Joy to Ann Arbor

Posted: Monday, January 24, 2011

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ANN ARBOR -- Robert Plant welcomed the crowd at Hill Auditorium to "another very interesting night of music" on Friday (Jan. 21).

Talk about understatement.

"Interesting" is, of course, the motto Plant has gone by since going solo in the wake of Led Zeppelin's 1980 break-up, and he's maintained a nearly unprecedented level of artistic integrity since then by going back to the golden goose only on rare occasions, and never for a full-scale reunion. Instead he's pushed in rich and unexpected creative directions, still maintaining a bit of his Golden God image of yore but mostly playing the ambitious seeker, rejecting any of the parameters or limitations his previous fame might have placed upon him.

His new Band of Joy, which visited Ann Arbor with him, is the latest chapter in Plant's travels, and also one of his best. Adding an element of trippy psychedelia to the Americana path he embraced on 2007's "Raising Sand," the Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Alison Krauss, the Band of Joy -- and its album, "Band of Joy" -- proved as potent, unique and, yes, interesting as anything that Plant has done during his career and also seems to be only at the beginning of what could be a formidable run.

Following a sharp 40-minute opening set by North Mississippi Allstars brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, Band of Joy was led on stage not by Plant but by "Band of Joy" producer Buddy Miller, a nod to the more ensemble sensibility of the project. Plant is unquestionably the star, but Miller and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott certainly established a near-equal footing as players, while they and Patty Griffin each took a turn singing lead vocals while Plant dutifully provided backup and, on Miller's "Trouble," harmonica.

Band of Joy's 21-song, 110-minute focused, not surprisingly, on "Band of Joy" selections such as Los Lobos' "Angel Dance," Richard Thompson's "House of Cards," Townes Van Zandt's "Harm's Swift Way, Low's "Silver Rider" and Plant and Miller's "Central Two-O-Nine," and also dipped into "Raising Sand" for "Rich Woman" and the Plant-Jimmy Page composition "Please Read the Letter." Then there were surprises, such as the spiritual "Twelve Gates to the City" and a couple of tunes plucked from Plant's 80s releases, including "Down By the Sea" and a rave-up rendition of "Tall Cool One."

The big moments, though, came when Plant and company dipped into the Led Zep canon. "Tangerine" fit Band of Joy's intricate acoustic orientation to a T, while "Houses of the Holy," "Ramble On" and "Gallows Pole" were powerful even with the rootsy tweaks this ensemble added. "Rock and Roll," meanwhile, gave all under the Hill roof a chance to cut fully loose, whether it was Miller and Scott dueling on guitar and pedal steel, respectively, or the fans who danced ecstatically in the aisles.

Closing the show with an a cappella "Goodnight," Plant praised the audience and its response, noting that, "You get it. I get it. We get it. What is It?" No definitive conclusions were reached, of course, except that "It" was pretty special.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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