If one has any questions about why Robert Plant revived the Band of Joy moniker for his current tour, an evening with the new incarnation makes it abundantly clear. It turns out that the pre-Led Zeppelin project name fits the current lineup perfectly, with Plant himself acting as the grizzled, gleeful pied piper of joy.
At Wednesday night’s show at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Plant spoke of finding paradise as a senior artist, which his relaxed, impish demeanor between songs further confirmed. He’s having a hell of a time up there, and that joy spread through the audience unhindered.
Flanked by the enormous talents of Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin, Plant kicked off the set with a reinvented, down-home rendition of Zeppelin’s “Black Country Woman,” an appropriate opener to a night of re-imagined numbers. With 2007’s Raising Sand with Alison Krauss and 2010’s Band of Joy, he has proven eager to explore new territory, and this current tour finds him melding Zeppelin hits, covers new and old, and gospel-inflected traditionals into one delicious bluesy, folky stew.
Much of the first portion of the show found Plant and Co. mining the new album, with performances of Los Lobos’ “Angel Dance” and Richard Thompson’s “House of Cards,” along with Plant and Miller’s arrangements of the traditional “Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday” and “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down.” The haunting Low cover “Monkey” saw Plant and Griffin harmonizing under chilly blue lights to great effect.
Interspersed with these early songs were moments when Plant said he wanted to introduce some of his friends, ceding the stage and lead vocals to Miller, Griffin and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott. Miller belted out a rousing rendition of his wife Julie’s “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go,” underpinned by Plant’s churning harmonica. Scott sang perpetual cover “A Satisfied Mind,” which brought his voice together with those of Miller and Griffin in gorgeous harmony. Griffin — clearly a crowd favorite — opted for Teddy McRae and Sid Wyche’s heartbreaking “Ocean of Tears.”
The latter part of the show featured Plant heading further back in time with “In the Mood” from his 1983 album, The Principle of Moments, and the 1998 Plant/Page (and later, Plant/Krauss) collaboration “Please Read the Letter.” The audience, most of which were respectfully seated for the middle part of the performance, leaped to their feet with the opening chords of “Houses of the Holy,” and stayed there for an extended cut of show-closer “Ramble On.”
The encore featured Townes Van Zandt’s “Harm’s Swift Way” from the new album, Zep’s “Gallows Pole” and the traditional “And We Bid You Goodnight.”
Plant remains a musical giant, with a voice that’s only been enriched with age. His decision to surround himself with a brilliant musical architect in Miller, the golden-throated Griffin and the ridiculously talented Scott makes for a band that has no trouble acting as the purveyor of joy.