Robert Plant and Band of Joy at the House of Blues, Boston - January 25, 2011
with The North Mississippi Allstars
The House of Blues was originally in Cambridge, MA, when it was started in 1992 by Isaac Tigrett and Dan Aykroyd. It closed and reopened again in Boston on Lansdowne Street across from Fenway Park. The House of Blues currently has 12 live music concert halls throughout the United States.
Tickets are general admission or reserved seats. Here's a fan tip. For general admission, you should know their system to get the best spot. The House of Blues has a policy that if you eat at the restaurant, or buy something at the gift shop, you get a receipt to cut the line without waiting when the doors open. Our advice is get there early, and get your jump the line receipt. We got some funky "Blues Brothers" t-shirts, securing our place in line. Where'd we end up ? Front row ... thanks, Dave! Shake Your Tail-feather - What'd I Say?.
The House of Blues is beautifully decorated with music and cultural art everywhere. I could have just walked around the venue as if it were a museum. The piped music before the show was of course, a mix of Billie Holliday, early Mystery Train Elvis and other blues standards. The music hall is tall, with the seats high above the floor, enabling fans various choices for their needs and comfort.
The House of Blues staff are friendly, knowledgeable and courteous. They follow the rules of the venue, no videos, no flash cameras, get a bracelet if you want to drink. I'd like to thank Mr. "TJ The Bar Shack" for running up and down the front row aisle all night, taking care of we thirsty rockers. Mr. TJ was smiling and patient all the while as the patrons got louder and more demanding. The warmth of the staff added to the festival feel of this historic venue.
The North Mississippi Allstars (Duo of Luther and Cody Dickinson)
There were a lot of Black Crowes fans standing front row with us. They were excited about Plant, of course, but they were there to see Luther Dickinson. Dickinson's replacement of Paul Stacey from the Crowes was noted by a few fans I spoke to as "the smoothest transition in rock" because of his great talent and friendly personality.
Cody Dickinson is equally revered and respected. Known for his unstoppable energy and rhythm at the drums, as well as guitar and vocals with Hill Country Revue, the award winning talents of this duo continue to unfold. Living legend, cigar box guitar, electric washboard, what else is there to say? Where was Chris Chew, people asked. Given the multiple projects going on with Luther and Cody, we knew their presence here was something special.
I discovered the North Mississippi Allstars from reading books on the history of the Blues and collecting some of the NMAS albums. There are stories of Luther and Cody and the beginnings of the Allstars in Ted Gioia's book, Delta Blues (2008). I won't tell you the story of Gioia's account that Luther used to sleep with a guitar in his bed as a child, no, I won't embarrass him. Their father, Jim Dickinson, a musician, producer and session musician with various Atlantic artists including the Rolling Stones and Arlo Guthrie, had a steady stream of blues legends coming around the house. One of Jim Dickinson's missions was to preserve the regional fife and drum music in the style of Napoleon Strickland and Otha Turner. I hear this in Cody's precise drumming. Luther was the producer of Mr. Turner's foundation awarded album "Everybody's Hollerin Goat," which was esteemed to be one of the best blues records of the 1990's. The Dickinson family continues to inject its spirit and talent into multiple genres of music.
Sadly, Jim Dickinson passed away in 2009. In their father's honor, Luther and Cody went to their family recording studio, Zebra Ranch, and made an album titled, "Keys to the Kingdom" which is due to be released Feb 1st. I had the privilege to get a pre-release listen and it is gorgeous. I will review this under a different article. As I look around these walls the honor the great blues singers of the past, I am astounded at the present generation and its hopeful continuation of this important musical genre.
So how were Luther and Cody Dickinson live tonight at this sold out show ?
THEY ROCKED !!!
A woman next to me said, "You're writing 'amazing slide guitar' next to every song!" - haha. There are no other words. Amazing slide guitar Luther - every song ! Luther's voice was deep and strong, Cody's drums were steaming and elevated to fantastic solos that made the rest of us sweat. They played six songs, among them Mean Ole Wind Die Down. Luther's voice had such a harmonious pace, it was just like the gentle wind for which he was calling. Then he went into a rockin guitar solo so intense, he'd slide and catch his notes on the way back. He made a joke about the mean ole wind here in Massachusetts, because it's been so cold. Not anymore with the Songs of the South blowing. Bang Bang Lulu was a fun, folk favorite. They dedicated some of their songs to RL Burnside and another blues singer, but I missed his name. They played a moving rendition of, Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning, a Blind Willie Johnson song, and the clear guitar rang like a church bell. Po Black Maddie/Skinny Woman jammed out with a distortion pedal and changed tempo to a lower key, spinning out an amazing solo.
Cody's performance on his boogie woogie electric-washboard was like a mid-summer thunderstorm. You wait for it and it blows on through, melodic, exciting, with relief and expectation. The crowd loved it, and couldn't believe that two men could make this room light up the way that it did that night. Here's Psychadelic Sex Machine from their 2007 album, Keep On Marchin - we do !
Robert Plant and The Band of Joy- The Musings
"The apples of the valley hold. The seeds of happiness. The ground is rich from tender care. Repay, do not forget."
It is only with the passage of time that the things we hear, see, think and dream are fully appreciated. Robert Plant has described in several media interviews that the Band of Joy was created by he and the late legendary drummer, John Bonham, as a teenage spirited band to rework songs with spontaneity and life. Robert puts himself in places of history and listens. Some reviewers emphasize how 'new' things are with Plant's current music. Perhaps they are new to us, the mortals following this indisputable rock god- but we see things only linearly. Robert Plant has been playing, studying, tracking and experimenting with music for most of his life. New to him is not even within our perimeter.
With his work spanning decades, including 10 solo CDs, a CD collaboration with Jimmy Page, which won a Grammy for Best Live Rock Performance, a cross over success with Alison Krauss in Raising Sand, that also won several Grammies; his creative work reaches endlessly. I remember his work with the Afro-Celt Sound System and his absorption of world music influence. This list is not exhaustive of his global projects. He never stops observing, honoring, then creating adventures in music.
The Hammer of the Gods is in the airwaves again. Listen. As we turn our heads to catch the wind of what he's discovered, Robert Plant is already on to the next expedition. Call the tune.
With the genius of the Led Zeppelin members, everything that they publish has multiple meanings. "Walking into Clarksdale", its name, reflective of the Mississippi town of Clarksdale which hosts the home of the Delta Blues Museum.
They honor history, but create it themselves in their performances. I've seen Robert Plant solo in the Meadowlands, NJ, July 23, 1985; which was the show where he was joined by Jimmy Page. I went to the 40th Anniversary of Atlantic Records at Madison Square Garden May 14, 1988. The 11 hour show ran late and we waited all night for the three Led Zeppelin members, teamed up with Jason Bonham to do their set. History written again. A few days later, I saw Robert Plant play with Stevie Ray Vaughn. Little did we comprehend that a little more than two years after this, Mr. Vaughn's legacy would slip into eternal rock history. In 2007, I had the honor to attend the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute in London, to witness the three surviving members of this epic band, again joined with Jason Bonham, play for a one off show. The world watched and listened, aching for our music heros. But the members of Led Zeppelin, along with several other supergroups and bands, were there to honor their hero, the late, great founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun.
History is relative and the passage of time continues to replace its current meaning in context. Robert Plant and the surviving members of Led Zeppelin, along with Jason Bonham, know their place in history. They are each so powerful in it that they are shaping it in ways we can not predict until generations more have passed. As fans pause and wish for a Led Zeppelin reunion, Robert Plant has come full circle, back to the 1967 pre-Zeppelin days, the place where he started to dream about music, playing with his friend John Bonham in the Midlands, England, visiting different genres of songs, bands, his history. Enter- The Band of Joy.
Robert Plant and the Band of Joy: The Performance
Robert Plant- Vocals and harmonica
Marco Giovino- Drums and percussion (Thank you, Mrs. Giovino, for staying out so late !)
Patty Griffin- Vocals and guitar
Byron House- Bass
Buddy Miller- Electric guitar, baritone, 6 string bass, mandoguitar
Darrell Scott- Acoustic guitar, mandolin, octave mandolin, banjos, pedal steel and lap steel guitar.
The stage was quiet except for light drumming music, and there was a smoking monkey picture on the drum set-clever! We hear Robert's voice calling and singing softly from backstage and out walks the Band of Joy, Nobody's Fault But Mine !
This song was down to earth powerful, slower and back to the roots gospel/blues. We all knew the words. It was a great opener. Plant gives us a big woah- holds his hands up, calls up the crowd, then snaps away and we explode! He carried the mike stand like a scepter, flailing it around and still has the characteristic moves he has always had on stage.
"Have mercy! Hey, welcome to Boston !" He told us he had many stories of Boston that he'd be filling in as the night went on. Robert Plant is so warm and engaging, he was constantly stopping to show appreciation to the crowd.
He followed with Angel Dance and it was very popular, uplifting, got everyone dancing.
Down to the Sea was next and yes, life is like a big tambourine ! He marched to the edge of the stage and hovered over us with the endearing question, "When I get older, settling down, will you come down to the sea?" - and snapped back again ! Wow ! This song had a great acoustic guitar solo too. My friend from Toronto who saw the same tour series noticed how technically different this version was than the Fate of Nations original. Plant has changed up everything presented tonight, including his own work.
Patty Griffin and Robert collaborated beautifully on Rich Woman from the Raising Sand album. Scott on the lap steel guitar was captivating. Plant topped it off with a few "hey hey mamas and oh baby you got the love I need."
House of Cards, a song from the 1953 Thompson original was strong with the entire band involved. Plant commanded the call and response that is so key to the connection with the audience. He was counting out the number of times we should sing with his hands, 1-2-3, almost whispering to us, so we'd get it right.
Love Throw a Line followed with Patty Griffin sounding very strong on vocals. It was great getting to know her as an artist. She is elegant and precise with her voice. And we loved it when she played guitar.
Please Read the Letter. With the first few notes, I knew this was coming. I love both versions of this song, the Plant/Page as well as the Plant/Kraus cover. Patty Griffin was a great match for Robert in the harmony vocal to the Raising Sand version. Plant started a hand clapping thing that he does high up and sideways with the audience. So many mannerisms are characteristically Plant, they are becoming timeless every time you see him live.
Satisfied Mind was done by Darrell Scott and the crowd loved it. It lead to a thunder of acapella harmony with the band and the audience.
Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down, from the Band Of Joy album was intense. Someone in the crowd yelled, "Hey-preacher person!" Plant was pensive and larger than life in this song. He loomed at the edge of the stage, with his voice powerfully restrained, poignant and directive. The vocals on this song reminded me of his Zeppelin days, because his voice was right in the middle of his range, solid. It was otherworldly to be in the front row at that moment.
Finally, an introduction to Buddy Miller. He co-produced the Band of Joy album with Robert Plant. He treated us to a song, Trouble. He had great chops for this song and the band raged on together like they were at a folk jamboree. And we got to see and hear Robert play the harp !
Tangerine, everyone knew it and sang it, faithfully and very very loudly. Maybe that's why they didn't allow videos, the tape would be the fans screaming and singing all night anyway. At some point during the night, we noticed Plant's boots; black shiny patent leather cowboy boots. They sparkled every time he moved and it became mesmerizing. He does this thing with crossing his ankles when he sings that he has done for decades, and he did it tonight in style.
Oh What A Beautiful City/12 Gates/In My Time of Dying. I was listening to the original Josh White of IMTOD and am always struck by how upbeat the tempo is and this is how it was sung tonight. In blues lore, coming face to face with death is a statement of courage, "I've done crossed over." It made sense to me that Davis' reverent Oh What a Beautiful City would be the preamble of IMTOD tonight.
"This is something I used to sing when I was at school. I feel I'm back at school again!" and he went into Houses of the Holy! One thing I noticed all night long is that Plant seemed to be in his zone tonight, his voice in great form and completely engaged with the crowd, happy.
Tall Cool One. Lighten up baby, this is not the 80's. Plant cleverly deleted the "I'm so tall, you're so cute" bridges and the band added some thunderous guitar licks, which added to the song. But we still love to herald all things tall and cool !
"I love playing to folk people!" Ramble On. This is a true Zeppelin spirit anthem, I think. And to experience it with the crowds of happy people singing along made it a memory I will never forget. I saw this live at the O2 with Jimmy and JPJ, Jason, epic, of course. Tonight was not to compare Led Zeppelin's work to Plant's, etc. Tonight was to celebrate music in the spirit of the Band of Joy.
Gallow's Pole. Imagine this, Robert's hands arched up, in his Robert Plant way, Buddy Miller tearing up a solo, and Patty Griffin belting out the harmonies. I love to hear different versions of this song. Led Belly's 1939 grim depiction builds quite a story and the power of the Band of Joy stood up to its wake.
Silver Rider. Plant has a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal in this song. At first I wasn't sure why other songs on his new album wouldn't be nominated instead. But after hearing the album and seeing it live, I understand. Plant's ability to get out of the way when he's supposed to and let the instruments craft the song is award winning. His voice response to the musical fabric woven by the band and Patty Griffin is what makes the song. When they lead, it is strong and when the song calls for patience, they wait for it.
"The years cascade around, buildings appear, then high rises ... I remember being in Boston twice in 1969 ... the first time Led Zeppelin played in Boston ... like an old man who sits in a chair and someone changes the blanket ... this is from 19 -- " and the band started playing Rock and Roll !! The crowd was on fire, melting and not from the heat. It was pure elation to be in this group, with this band, this night, absolute dancing, singing mayhem. Yes, it was a folk/rock version, a slower version, perhaps, but it was a Plant-ed creation and we loved it.
And We Bid You Goodnight. The band did a stunning and cozy a cappella of the Grateful Dead's folk reverence of the walk through Jerusalem into the shadow of death. There was a mindfulness of time passing in this place tonight, we know, we age and we will not live forever. The music will, though, my friends, the faith through the music will save us and it will live forever.
And if my wings should fail me, won't you meet me with another pair ?
For daily song posts and site updates Bluebirdreviews is ON FACEBOOK !