Over the Hills & Far Away: Robert Plant’s Band of Joy – Live @ the Sony Centre

After a super busy weekend featuring dinner with visiting family, friends gigging at a local watering hole and a Saturday night wardrobe malfunction enroute to a staff party (complete with a tricky, yet effective, cab-ride fix that would’ve made MacGyver beam with pride), my husband & I were lucky to spend our Sunday evening in the presence of greatness; I’m talking true Rock Royalty, mes amis.

Robert Plant & his Band of Joy (the newest incarnation… obviously) came to Toronto and, because I’m rather deft with my credit card, I managed to snag tickets as part of LX’s Christmas present this year. Needless to say, he was pleased; we may both be Led Zeppelin fans, but he’s the one with the collection of vinyl (not to mention the John Bonham-inspired drum skills.)

I had assumed that the crowd would be a bunch of 30 and 40-somethings like us.  But I always forget that, when I discovered Zeppelin, I had yet to hit high school and the band was already starting to fall apart.  So the time-honoured sport of people watching was at a premium for this show. There were folks who were dressed like they’d hit pause at one of the earlier 1970-ish Zeppelin shows and were hoping to open a space/time portal and travel back several decades to relive the glory days of their bellbottoms and bandanas (oddly enough, there were high-school & college-aged kids dressed in much the same manner. So really? No excuse there); Quite a large percentage of the crowd were likely at one of those earlier concerts as well,  only now they possessed the good sense to dress more age (and fashion) appropriate. We likely fell somewhere between both groups.

Support act the North Mississippi Allstars – brothers Luther & Cody Dickinson – fit right in with their arsenal of twangy goodness. At first, they seemed a bit dwarfed (it’s just the two of them) on such a big stage, but their sound was big enough to dissolve any worries that they might blend into the background, so to speak. Also? Have you ever seen anyone rock out with a washboard and a wah wah pedal? Yeah. Me neither. Until last night. It was EPIC. I highly recommend you check these guys out; their vocals may not be the heartiest… but their playing is big enough that you really don’t care.

In support of the phenomenal 2010 album of the same name (that’s Band of Joy for those of you not paying attention), the night featured swampy-good gospel-tinged songs from the album and oh-so-much more.

Guitarist Patty Griffin stepped up in a big way during Rich Woman, the sexy-as-hell duet made popular with Allison Krauss and never missed a beat; I have to admit, I’m a bit out of the loop these days when it comes to who’s hot and who’s not – but this girl is fantastic. Seriously.  Her voice is just tremendous. Go. Check her out. Now.

The heavy metal fans weren’t to be disappointed, either. Some fantastically fun interpretations of some of the classics found there way onto the set list. There were Zeppelin renditions a-plenty (Misty Mountain Hop, Gallows Pole & Rock & Roll, to name a few) and Sir Percy even busted out one of his ’80s solo hits (Tall Cool One) – all with a sludgy, southern gospel flair.

What I thought was particularly cool was that the show really was about the Band of Joy. When one of the other members took over as lead on a number, Plant stepped back into his Backup Singer/Harmonica Player shoes. Granted, you never really forgot that he was back there. But he’s been around and in the spotlight for so long, that letting his band mates stand front & centre seems organic and natural (which, given the caliber of musicianship in this band, stands to reason.)

Everyone got to show off their superb vocal chops one last time with the final song of the night – a cover of the Grateful Dead’s And We Bid You Goodnight.

Plant’s heyheymamas and babybabybabydoyalikeits might not be as high pitched as they once were (but, to be fair, his jeans are nowhere near as tight as they once were, either – more’s the pity) but they’re no less impassioned. And the rockabilly-meets-delta blues style that is the Band of Joy fits his finely-aged vocal chords brilliantly.

So, to say that the show was worth the price of admission would be a gross understatement. I mean, come on… it was Robert Fucking Plant: Rock God. He might be weathered, as the years may dictate, but his chops are still in fine form.