Robert Plant Revives Led Zeppelin Ghost as Tour Starts: Review

Robert Plant
Robert Plant, who is touring with the Band of Joy, sings at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The former Led Zeppelin star has revived the 1960s group name for a touring act that has been playing in the U.S. and Europe. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

Robert Plant is back. The Led Zeppelin star is reviving the ghost of his old group and paying homage to Americana in one of 2010’s must-see shows.

Plant, 62, still comes on with hair flowing and unbuttoned black shirt. It’s back to the 1970s when he rips through “Rock and Roll” and back to the 1890s with some of the traditional gospel and blues numbers.

Last night Plant started the European leg of his world tour in London. Supported by the Band of Joy, he plays songs from his new CD plus ‘‘Houses of the Holy” and other Zeppelin classics.

We may never get a Led Zep revival tour, with the millions of dollars that might bring. Instead, Plant sells out venues such as the 2,350-capacity HMV Forum. There is real excitement at seeing one of rock’s great front men at close quarters.

At first, Americana rules. Marco Giovino’s measured drumming, Darrel Scott’s pedal and acoustic guitars, Patty Griffin’s country harmonies hold the squalls of guitarist Buddy Miller in check for covers of Low’s “Monkey” and Richard Thompson’s “House of Cards,” each crackling with immediacy.

Plant twirls the microphone stand, and deploys his primal snakeskin howl with restraint, at times almost with delicacy. Even so, he has enough raw power in his voice to burn up a fleet of Ferraris and Bugattis.

Griffin sings ‘‘Please Read the Letter,” moving Alison Krauss’s bluegrass tones north to Tennessee. Then, following one of many teasing introductions (“This next song is about outdoor pursuits in public places”), Plant leads the band into Zeppelin’s ‘‘Misty Mountain Hop,” the trademark riff gaining depth from its new Appalachian trappings.

Devil Talk

“Rich Woman” is rawer than on disc and a medley including “Wade in the Water” is electrifying. Plant gleefully attacks a washboard for the Lightnin’ Hopkins number “Give Me Central 209” and is eerily conversant with the devil during the gospel “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.” For a roaring version of “Gallows Pole,” Miller holds up a Nashville mirror to Jimmy Page’s original guitar storm.

In 2007, Plant released ‘‘Raising Sand,” an album of mellow songs with Krauss. Originally a low-key release, it went on to sell more than a million copies in the U.S. and win five Grammy awards. Rather than do a sequel, Plant assembled this current Nashville-centric line-up.

Led Zeppelin was infamously named in the expectation that its music would be received like a lead balloon. Band Of Joy -- also the name of a group Plant sang with during the 1960s -- could not be more apt a moniker.

Rating: ****.

The Robert Plant Band of Joy Tour has resumed in Europe after U.S. dates in July. In October, the band plays in Sweden, Norway, Scotland and the U.K. In November, the tour moves to Ireland. Information:

The Band of Joy album will be released on Rounder Records. It will be available in the U.S. on Sept. 14 priced at $9.99, and in the U.K. on Sept. 13 priced at 8.90 pounds. Download prices vary across services.

What the Stars Mean:
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***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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