Robert Plant & Band of Joy, Bettye LaVette Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion July 24, 2010
Robert Plant is a master of the musical bait and switch, but an exceptionally gracious one.
Plant is no dummy. He has to know that the commercial radio stations in Houston (and, let's be fair, most everywhere else) that run ads and give away plenty of tickets for his concerts would sooner add Lady Gaga to their playlists than touch anything from 2007's Raising Sand or his forthcoming Band of Joy album.
Therefore, he also had to know that an overwhelming part of the audience was there to bask in "Communication Breakdown" and "Heartbreaker," not to sample the Los Lobos, Richard Thompson and Louvin Brothers offerings from Band of Joy's self-titled album due in September. He acknowledged as much four songs deep into the set, thanking the crowd for its "admirable restraint" after Sand's "Please Read the Letter."
Plant, who had an imp-like gleam in his eyes the duration of the 90-plus minutes he and Band of Joy were onstage Saturday night at the Woodlands, may have had the last laugh anyway. After his thank-you - Zep's "Thank You" came in the encore, by the way - he and the four-man, one-woman Band of Joy began another fuzzy, acoustic-blues arrangement that only revealed itself as "Misty Mountain Hop" when Plant began singing the lyrics.
As soon as the words "Walkin' in the park the other day, baby..." left the singer's lips, the entire crowd leapt to its feet, a pattern that would continue the rest of the night: Standing for the Zeppelin tunes and, save a few intrepid souls that danced the night away, seated for everything else.
More than anything Plant and the other musicians did from the stage, that was the only difference between the Zeppelin and non-Zeppelin songs Saturday. Seeded with bandleader Buddy Miller's biting electric leads and/or his and Darrell Scott's sturdy acoustic rhythms, or overlaid/underscored with Scott's pining steel, the Americana makeovers given "Tangerine," "Over the Hills and Far Away," "Houses of the Holy" and "Gallows Pole" revealed those songs as very much precursors to where Plant's musical head is now. Or always has been.
Newer material like opener "Down to the Sea," "Monkey" and Sand's "Rich Woman" all dabbled in the same moody, Middle Eastern-laced mysticism of 1983's "In the Mood" and "Tangerine" parent album Led Zeppelin III, while the new "Central 209" highlighted the longtime Elvis fan's rockabilly fetish; likewise, spurred by Byron House's thumping upright bass, the reworking of '80s solo hit "Tall Cool One" lacked only Gene Vincent's leather jacket. And Thompson's "House of Cards" easily outrocked "Misty Mountain Hop," and nearly did encore closer "Rock and Roll."
Finally, Plant proved himself as gracious a front man as he was a master of ceremonies. He ceded center stage to other Band of Joy members three times - first to former Texas resident Miller for a snarling "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go"; then to Scott and his high-lonesome tenor for the country standard "Satisfied Mind"; and finally to Austin's Patty Griffin, whose rousing, rapturous "Move On Up In Glory" eclipsed even the evening's previous gospel high-water mark, a foot-stomping pairing of "12 Gates to the City" and the Staple Singers' "Wade In the Water" that had come a few songs before.
As for opener Bettye LaVette, Aftermath had been waiting to see her for years, and... wow. After a funky version of the Beatles' "The Word," low-down "You Don't Know Me at All" and heart-wrenching versions of both George Jones' "Choices" and George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity," the Detroit-born soul singer closed with an awe-inspiring cover of The Who's "Love, Reign Oer Me" that battled the norther that was blowing in at that exact moment to a standstill.
Personal Bias: Who doesn't love Led Zeppelin?
The Crowd: Zeppelin T-shirts on children of all ages.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I'm 49 years old and I just got fuckin' carded for beer."
Random Notebook Dump: Just watch this.
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Down to the Sea Angel Dance House of Cards Please Read the Letter Misty Mountain Hop Somewhere Trouble Don't Go (Buddy Miller, lead vocals) Rich Woman 12 Gates to the City/Wade In the Water Tangerine Satisfied Mind (Darrell Scott, lead vocals) Move On Up In Glory (Patty Griffin, lead vocals) Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down Central 209 Monkey In the Mood Houses of the Holy Over the Hills and Far Away Tall Cool One Gallows Pole
Harm's Swift Way Thank You Rock and Roll Goodnight