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Posted at 6:45 PM ET, 02/ 2/2011

In concert: Robert Plant and Band of Joy at DAR Constitution Hall

By Dave McKenna

robert plantRobert Plant's new odes to American music are somehow as outstanding as his old ones. (All photos by Tracy Woodward/TWP)

Robert Plant originally got famous exploiting a traditional form of American music — the blues. At a Led Zeppelin show in Laurel in 1969, Washington Post pop-music critic Carl Bernstein (yeah, him) found Plant’s performance so derivative he labeled it “latter-day blackface.” Plant survived the slur, and he and Zeppelin went on to do all right for themselves. In fact, had Plant wanted to play that same stuff the same way with the same band all these years later, he’d be playing stadiums now.

Turns out Plant still wants to hit the road paying tribute to American music, just a different sort. He came to DAR Constitution Hall on Tuesday with the group that caused him to reject a Led Zeppelin reunion, his new Band of Joy, and in a daring and fabulous 100-minute set, paid tribute to domestic country and folk.

Plant’s set featured oodles of Page/Plant material, but the songs didn’t remain the same. The Band of Joy versions, in fact, weren’t easily recognizable as their old selves. “Black Dog” was plodding and moody, carried by the leaden notes Buddy Miller plucked on his baritone guitar. “Rock and Roll” was done in swampy, New Orleans-rock style, with drummer Marco Giovino tapping on his kit, not pummeling it the way John Bonham (a member of Plant’s original Band of Joy in the mid-1960s) would have. “Ramble On” was done as loud as country rock can be. For the coda of “Gallows Pole,” a traditional folk number that appeared on “Led Zeppelin III,” Plant let loose with the night’s one and only shriek.

robert plant

But Plant used most of his time onstage showcasing songs that most of his regular audience had never heard before, and while doing so freed up members of his all-American band to flaunt their skills. On “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” a traditional gospel tune recorded by, among others, Uncle Tupelo, everybody onstage harmonized, with bassist and native Kentuckian Byron House swinging lowest. Plant moved to the back of the stage to sing backup while multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott (another Bluegrass Stater) handled lead vocals on “A Satisfied Mind,” most famously covered by Gram Parsons.

There was a whole lot of Texas in the set. With Austin-based songstress Patty Griffin by his side, Plant covered “Harm’s Swift Way” by Townes Van Zandt and Barbara Lynn’s “You Can’t Buy My Love,” both songs as obscure as they are wondrous. And when Plant reprised his own “Tall Cool One,” a song from the late 1980s revived years later in Coca-Cola commercials, he and the band rocked it like the Fabulous Thunderbirds might.

Before ending the show with an a cappella version of another traditional folk number, “And We Bid You Goodnight,” brought into the hippie scene in the late 1960s by the godfathers of psychedelic folk, the Grateful Dead, Plant announced his agenda for the tour: “It’s all an experiment!” Everybody in the ad hoc laboratory voiced their approval.

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robert plant

robert plant

robert plant

robert plant

By Dave McKenna  | February 2, 2011; 6:45 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  Robert Plant  
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It' so refreshing for the Post to post a review by somebody who knows what he is writing about it. I was there, also saw Plant with Krauss before, and was dissapointed with this concert. The concert, for my own taste, lacked tension and was too much subtle joy.
It is very commendable for Mr. Plant to embark in a new style of music, may be he should form a duo with Elvis Costello, dabbling in the same kind of field. I, will pass following them in their journey.

Posted by: JORGEK1 | February 3, 2011 8:36 AM | Report abuse

I couldn't agree more with this review. Having seen most of these musicians before in various settings, they all really seemed like they've reached a new level with this group. Robert Plant genuinely appeared honored to be playing with this group and vice-versa. As good as the recording is, the band has now fleshed out the arrangements which gave the songs more power. Surprisingly, the mix at DAR was pretty good and the group harmonies never got too muddy. Who knew Patty Griffin was such a rocker!

Posted by: theblustrat | February 3, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Have to respectfully disagree with JORGEK1 -- I saw both Plant/Krauss at Merriweather and this show, and I enjoyed this one more. It rocked harder, Patty Griffin has a more bluesy voice and Buddy Miller was awesome.

Posted by: jprice2 | February 3, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I thought this concert was one of the best I've seen. Very different feel to me from the one with Alison Krauss, although I enjoyed that concert immensely as well. I think it's fantastic for Mr. Plant to be exploring totally new genres of music at this point in his career and I look forward to the next album and the next tour. I have followed Plant because I am a Led Zep fan, and my continued interest in him has introduced me to music that I would not otherwise have chosen to listen to, and enriched my appreciation of music. Thank you Robert Plant!

Posted by: CR11 | February 3, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Nice review, and I agree with it by and large, with one glaring exception... There should NEVER be a review of a DAR show that fails to comment on the horrific acoustics. Last night's show was an especially good opportunity given Plant's comment after the first song: "interesting sound you've got here." I have heard a variety of excuses for DAR's sub-par acoustics - many of which involve the refusal of the venue to install appropriate acoustic panels because of thebuilding's historic significanse. That, politely, is cr*p! It is the only medium sized venue of its size in DC and is playing all sorts of rock and indie bands. I can't imagine a little acoustic updating would hurt it that much, and would enhance things given the number of people I know who simply refuse to see a show there. Dave (and others reviewing DAR shows) please please please review the acoustics in your reviews... Perhaps enough complaints will prompt action from the aurally-staid Daughters of the American Revolution!!

Posted by: MMDC. | February 3, 2011 3:47 PM | Report abuse

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