ROBERT PLANT AND THE BAND OF JOY, BETTYE LAVETTE
AVA AT CASINO DEL SOL
Wednesday, July 21
Led Zeppelin always drew upon American music forms—rock, blues, folk—but focused them through a British lens. Their folk elements were more in the British folk tradition than anything found on the Anthology of American Folk Music, while the bombastic blues-rock they cranked out was all the rage with Brits in the 1960s and '70s.
But on Raising Sand, former Zep singer Robert Plant's 2007 collaboration with bluegrass whisperer Alison Krauss (as well as producer T Bone Burnett and a crack band), Plant seemed to finally fully immerse himself in pure Americana. With his latest project, Band of Joy, Plant continues in that vein.
On July 21, Plant and his band—which includes ringers Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Darrell Scott, all of whom took the spotlight for a song—previewed material from the group's upcoming album, and dramatically reinterpreted classics stretching back to his days in Zeppelin.
Casually dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, the 2010 version of Plant resembles a cross between Russell Brand and the lion from The Wizard of Oz, and while his voice never hit the high register of some of his wailing in Zep, his new arrangements didn't demand it. Over the course of a covers-heavy 90-minute set, he and his band ran through everything from an electric-bluegrass take on "Gallows Pole" to an almost-pop-country version of Townes Van Zandt's unrecorded "Harms Swift Way"; a gospel-country spin on Richard and Linda Thompson's "House of Cards" to a slinky, grinding duet between Plant and Griffin on "Misty Mountain Hop." "Houses of the Holy" incorporated Scott's pedal steel and Miller's guitar-playing, which owed more to John Fogerty than Jimmy Page.
Perhaps the most unusual song choice of the night (and there were several surprises), a cover of "Monkey" by "an American combo called Low," was a revelation, with Plant and Griffin singing in harmony against eerie washes of sound emanating from Miller's guitar.
In her opening set, soul firebrand Bettye LaVette ran through 40 minutes of songs mostly from her recent album of British rock covers, including a stunningly powerful take on The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me."