Every few years, the chorus starts again, asking the surviving members of Led Zeppelin to reunite, and each time, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones say something to shoot down the pleas. But at this altogether invigorating Gotham gig, Plant went one better – delivering two solid hours of proof that such a reprise would be unnecessary and superfluous.
By opening with a molasses-thick, almost unrecognizably twangy version of “Black Dog,” Plant acknowledged the ghosts of Zeppelin past and transmuted them into a vital, living spirit. He sprinkled aud favorites judiciously through the set, a suitably heady “Houses of the Holy” here, a steadily rumbling “Ramble On” there. But to his credit, he refrained from milking every drop of nostalgia from those tunes.
He and his band — the third Band of Joy he’s led over four decades of performing — took equal care in deconstructing Plant’s latter-day work. An extended reworking of the Grammy-winning “Please Read the Letter” found Patty Griffin not so much replicating Alison Krauss’ part on the original as recasting it, imbuing the song with a rougher, more assertive edge.
Throughout the evening, Plant’s cohorts were able to stake out their own space, largely because he backed up his words with actions about the band’s equanimity, particularly when it came to bringing guitarist Buddy Miller to the fore, giving him space for solos that ranged from poignant to bone-rattling. He also deserves credit for ceding center stage to allow multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott a chance to showcase a remarkably clear tenor on a version of “Satisfied Mind,” and Griffin a similar platform for a rousing “Move on up in Glory.”
Plant has grown more comfortable in his own voice in recent years as well. Having recognized that he can’t rise to the higher reaches that he inhabited so naturally some time back, he’s settled in a couple of octaves lower, which adds more heft to darker songs like “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” and “Silver Rider” (a cover from the catalog of Minnesota dream-rockers Low).
Addressing the crowd frequently, Plant steered clear of shopworn banter, taking on an evangelical tone in attesting to the power of music — not his own, but the stuff that he’s absorbed over the decades. He didn’t just talk the talk, either. By highlighting the playing of his collaborators and calling attention to the work of folks unfamiliar to most of his audience, Plant acted as both preacher and teacher — a winning combo, indeed.