Still A Pilgrim: Tim Batke Reviews Robert Plant At The Sony Centre For The Performing Arts, Saturday January 22nd

You could sense throughout the first half of the Robert Plant & the Band of Joy set on Saturday night in Toronto that many in the sold out audience were growing impatient wanting to hear some Led Zeppelin from the Golden God. You could feel some getting restless in the recently redesigned Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, formerly the Hummingbird Centre, originally the O’Keefe Centre. Plant referred to the venue by its original name on a couple of occasions as the evening was drawing to an end and even spoke of how Led Zeppelin performed at the O’Keefe Centre on November 2, 1969. Well, over forty-one years later and more than thirty years since the end of Led Zeppelin, there are many that just will not let Plant move on to something different musically without voicing their disdain.

Since Plant’s last one off with Led Zeppelin in December 2007 in tribute to former Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun, he has repeatedly turned down untold millions to tour again tour with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham’s son, Jason. Why? To do what he has been inspired by, making music with new people. Working with American country songstress Alison Krauss and producer T Bone Burnett, Plant created the critically acclaimed ‘Raising Sand’ which won Album of the Year at the Grammy’s. And instead of repeating his success with Alison, where sessions to record a follow up were reportedly unsuccessful, Plant joined forces with more Americans like Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin & Darrell Scott to create a new version of his 60’s outfit, the Band of Joy. The end result – yet another critical darling with the album titled after his touring band.

Yet instead of all of the audience at the O’Keefe Centre, I mean the Sony Centre, enjoying phenomenal songs on ‘Band of Joy’ like the Los Lobos number “Angel Dance” and “House of Cards”, written by Richard Thompson, I could hear someone repeatedly yell out “come on” scornfully when the next non-Led Zeppelin number began. Rather than enjoying the multitude of great vocalists on stage while Patty Griffin, Darrell Scott & Buddy Miller all took a turn on lead vocal, I even heard one woman just a few feet away from me scream out “you pussy!” For myself, one of the highlights of the night was when Scott took the lead vocal on a rendition of the Joe “Red” Hayes and Jack Rhodes song “A Satisfied Mind” one of the greatest songs ever.

Even when Plant relented halfway through the night performing by Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine,” where Scott again blew me away this time on pedal steel, there still was not that big of a reaction from the exclusive Zeppelin fans. It was almost as if now Plant was not getting the Led out with the Zeppelin songs they wanted to hear. To bring the point of the crowd home, while Plant did a medley of “12 Gates to the City” which included traditional numbers “Wade in the Water” and “In My Time of Dying” which Led Zeppelin made it there own epic on ‘Physical Graffiti,’ though hardly anyone acknowledged the performance. The arrangement of “Houses of the Holy” was changed to such an extent that the song didn’t get the reaction that I would have expected, though to me it was another definite highlight.

Plant’s solo career was also not up to par for the Toronto audience. The performance of “Tall Cool One” which Plant referred as his “last hit”, was not a big enough one for most, based on the crowd reaction. It wasn’t until Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” and the traditional “Gallows Pole,” which ended up on on Led Zeppelin III in 1970, that the crowd on the floor got on their feet. This time, in the crowds defence, the majority of the set was mid tempo in an Americana style.

After back to back Zeppelin numbers to close out the set the crowd stayed on their feet for the final track from the ‘Band of Joy’ the cover of Low’s “Silver Rider,” then the crowd went as nuts as they did all night for the classic “Rock & Roll.” The concert fittingly ended a cappella in the traditional number made famous by the Grateful Dead “And We Bid You Goodnight.”

To clarify the majority of the audience at the O’Keefe/Hummingbird/Sony Centre were respectful and appreciated the wonderful performance from Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, though in this case they were almost like the silent majority. There was a loud minority that were heard periodically throughout the show showing their disappointment that Plant has chosen not to be some old nostalgic act as many of his contemporaries have become.

Oh well. You can’t please them all, especially if your name is Robert Plant.

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