Robert Plant and the Band of Joy
DAR Constitution Hall
February 1, 2011
On Tuesday night, February 1, a mostly elder crowd by rock concert going standards stepped out of the cold Washington DC drizzle and into the stately DAR Constitution hall. All were primed for a chance to see and welcome musical icon and hero, Robert Plant.
Accompanying Plant was his most recent ensemble of backing players, the Band of Joy, a name that reaches back to his inaugural band in West Bromwich, England circa 1966. His band, which also served as the accompaniment for the critically well received 2010 album of the same name, is an all-star cast unto itself. With Buddy Miller on guitar and vocals, Darrell Scott on guitar and vocals, Byron Scott on bass, Marco Giovino on drums and Patty Griffin on vocals and guitar the band amply supplied Plant’s vision for a sound that only a intuitive and creative force as large as Plant could fathom.
Unlike his contemporaries of old Â who remain faithful to their hard rocking staple past, Robert Plant is content to satisfy his musical palette with an ever widening range of musical colors that centers in Americana, but twists in manners that cause it to not be completely boxed into the genre. In contrast to the Plant of old, with the Band of Joy, one finds more vocally complex melodic structure and storytelling lyrics that are packed with sincerity.
The vocal duties were also nicely spread out with Griffin, Miller and Scott all taking a number on lead vocals, and when not in lead, they backed Plant with two and three part harmonies. The fact that the band changed instruments for nearly every song served as both evidence to the care that went into the tunes and also as compliment to the diversity in the songwriting through by shaped tones that came courtesy of a variety of Gretch, Gibson and custom made guitars, Fender fretted and fretless basses, acoustic and electric mandolins, acoustic guitars, banjos, and a pedal steel guitar for good measure.
The band opened with a sophisticated, gritty Americana version of the Led Zeppelin classic “Black Dog.” From there, the set was a mix of interspersed Band of Joy tracks that were tied in with several gospel classics with the most notable being the Patty Griffin led “Wade in the Water.” However, the night’s most stirring moments were reserved for other reworked takes on Zeppelin classics from “Gallows Pole” to an amazing version of “Ramble On,” in which Plant reached back nearly 40 years to find the electrified pitch in the high powered voice of old to scream out the song’s departing moments and whipped the horde of admirers in the Hall into standing ovation.
It was clear that Plant was embracing every moment and aspect of his continued love for creativity. Smiling throughout and at one point, he paused for a moment to take it in before he offered his appreciation to both the amazing band he had with him and their tolerance of his “Britishness” and to the capacity crowd hall and continues to support his work.
The venue was a perfect counterpart for the band. DAR Constitution Hall, within sight of The White House, is a building befitting the best of Washington DC’s elegant halls. Complete with murals, a partial dome and plush seats, the maturity of the building, crowd and band made the night seem tailor made.
Rounding out the night, the crew of joy returned after a short break that was filled with applause for a triple encore. Consisting of “In the Mood” from Robert Plant’s “The Principal of Moments,” a rockabilly ESQ version of Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and a stunning a cappella version of the traditional Bahamian spiritual song, (later popularized by Incredible String Band and Grateful Dead) “I Bid You Good Night,” featuring the voices of each member of the sextet in perfect harmony to send the crowd into the brisk DC late evening.
This was not a night of screaming excitement, adrenaline rushing rock and roll like the pre-Alison Krauss Robert Plant of years past. Rather it was a satisfying night of music delivered by musical veterans who have grown anything but stagnant, and further removed any lingering notion of there being a Page/Plant/Zeppelin reunion anytime soon.