Rock legend Robert Plant brought his all-star Band of Joy to Ovens Auditorium Monday to perform new renditions of classics from both his solo and Led Zeppelin catalogs, as well as tracks from Band of Joy’s 2010 album.
Things kicked off subtly with Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” but the busy psychedelic folk version didn’t ring with instant familiarity. The theme of what Plant called this “reincarnation” of the band (which is named for his and John Bonham’s late `60s pre-Zeppelin blues and soul act) was reinterpreting, sometimes even rebuilding songs, whether a cover of Los Lobos’ “Angel Dance” (which also opened the new disc) or completely reworking “Houses of the Holy.”
Plant, who remains in good shape physically and vocally (his notes soared at times), surrounds himself with Nashville’s elite. Guitarist Buddy Miller (who played on Plant and Alison Krauss’ “Raising Sand” tour and co-produced “BoJ”), vocalist Patty Griffin, and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott all have critically-acclaimed careers as singer-songwriters and a few hits under their belts. Each artist left their own prints on the performance while complimenting their captain and band leader who, regardless of his reverence in rock n’ roll history, treated the musicians like a true ensemble. Each took lead vocals with Plant even stepping to the side to sing back up. The rhythm section of Byron House (bass) and Marco Giovino (drums) stepped up at times as well. Rich harmonies, especially between Plant, Griffin, and Scott, were often the centerpiece.
Miller’s guitar helped provide the psychedelic feel of many tunes. His meaty tone oozes with the angry spirit and expansiveness of old westerns, which was the kind of the feeling the arrangements conjured – that, combined with gospel and touches of world music. “Tangerine” and “Rock n’ Roll” remained truest to the originals. Others, such as the `80s MTV staple “Tall Cool One,” “Ramble On,” and “Gallow’s Pole,” were party to slower, thoughtful, well plotted arrangements.
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The only complaint was that clarity was sometimes at the mercy of volume when the entire band would kick in on both vocals and instruments. It was as if the dynamics had nowhere to go, but would’ve been perfect for an outdoor show. Songs like “Monkey” (originally by Low) and “Tangerine” benefited from quieter, less busy arrangements.
The North Mississippi Allstars, aka second generation blues-rock brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson, played as a guitar and drums “Duo Loco” (without bassist Chris Chew). Its set consisted of choice cuts from its new album “Keys to the Kingdom,” which pays tribute to their late father, famed producer Jim Dickinson. The set, which included sharp covers of R.L. Burnside, Bob Dylan, and the oft-covered “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” kicked off a soulful gospel-blues spirit that threaded throughout both band’s performances. The Allstars' last song, “Lay My Burden Down,” was met with a standing ovation from most of the crowd, a rarity for an opening act.
That churchlike atmosphere concluded Plant’s portion of the concert as well. After an encore that included another `80s solo hit, “In the Mood” and Zeppelin’s “Rock n’ Roll,” the set ended with a fabulous a cappella performance of “And We Bid You Good Night,” which featured harmony from all six band members.
“See you at Bonnaroo,” Plant said as he left the stage, feeding the presumably true rumors that Band of Joy will be part of the Tennessee summer festival’s as yet unannounced line-up.