Published Jan 24, 2011Has any former rock god aged as gracefully as Robert Plant? He could easily be raking in mega-millions playing stadiums with a reunited Led Zeppelin, but instead has taken on a creatively credible tour of his explorations in American roots music. Following his hit collaboration with Alison Krauss (2007's Raising Sand), he has formed Band of Joy, now out touring in support of their self-titled debut album.
Opening this Toronto show (the second of two sold-out nights) was sibling duo North Mississippi Allstars. Their blues-based sound is rather one-dimensional, but the guitar playing of Luther Dickinson was a fluent treat, with the crowd giving them a standing ovation. Plant and his band then delivered a 90-minute set that can best be described as dazzling.
The band set up in a semi-circle around their leader on just half the stage, creating a feeling of intimacy and empathy that shone through their playing. Band of Joy are a virtual Americana supergroup in that they include noted singer-songwriters Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott and Patty Griffin. All were given room to shine with a solo turn each, while the guitar interplay between Scott and Miller was a consistent pleasure. Add in bassist Byron House, and you had four background and harmony vocalists complementing Plant's still-strong voice. He didn't attempt any of those Zeppelin-esque air-raid-siren-type howls, but his voice is now a truly supple instrument that matched the diversity of the material.
The night began with a breezy version of the traditional "Cindy, I'll Marry You Someday," followed by a take on Los Lobos's "Angel Dance," featuring Plant dancing with the microphone stand just like in days of old. Both songs are on the Band of Joy album, and, along with Richard Thompson's "House of Cards" and Low's moody "Monkey" (done as the first encore), the songs actually sounded more vibrant live than on disc.
Rather than just plugging his new record, though, Plant dished up something of a career retrospective. "Rich Woman" from Raising Sand was reprised nicely, with Griffin vocally subbing in for Krauss, while Plant's take on his 1988 hit "Tall Cool One" was a rockin' set highlight. A Reverend Gary Davis cover showed Plant's blues roots, while, to the sheer delight of the crowd, more Zeppelin tunes than expected were offered up. These included "Misty Mountain Hop," "Ramble On," "Gallows Pole" and an encore romp through "Rock and Roll," all of which were given an effective, countrified makeover. The final encore song, "And We Bid You Goodnight," was done as a powerful six-voiced a cappella gospel tune.
Throughout, Plant was at his charismatic best. When a female fan yelled out, "I love you, Robert," he replied, "let's keep that between us, shall we? People may talk." He also recalled playing this very stage with Led Zeppelin way back in 1969, when the building was the O'Keefe Centre. Forty-two years on, he is indeed still going strong.