Saturday, June 14, 2008

Plant regales in the past on stage Led Zeppelin shared with the Who

A sign at Merriweather Post Pavilion informs or reminds modern-day concertgoers that "a little known band called Led Zeppelin" played there "in the early 70's" as the opening act for the Who.

Closer to the truth, the date was May 25, 1969. The guy who took me to the show and landed us a pair of seats in fourth-row center owns a handbill and an unused ticket from the '69 show and once owned a concert poster from it. We know better than the sign did. It wasn't the early '70s.

Robert Plant knows better too. At the beginning of the encore set on the same stage a few hours ago, he said he was well aware he and his old mates had been on that stage 39 years and 40-some days earlier. He even recited the date (although I think he said May 26, not 25).

But as a matter of fact, Plant said it was a phone call he'd taken this week that reminded him. On the other end of that call was the man who was Led Zeppelin's tour manager in those days, Richard Cole. Funny side note: When Plant mentioned Cole by name, a few people cheered, to Plant's surprise. He asked for clarification: "Richard Cole, 'woo'? Are you serious?"

Plant was surrounded at the show by reminders of his past. Just as in Knoxville this April, when a fan in the front row handed him a powder blue T-shirt with the message "Nurses Do It Better" -- replicating a message Plant wore onstage at the Oakland Coliseum in July 1977 -- Plant waved and spoke with a front-row fan who was wearing the same shirt.

Another fan, a few seats to my right in the fourth row, had the shirt on too, having obtained it along with a bootleg ordered online from Fishheads International. Popular item!

Speaking of popular items, earlier in the tour, paperback programs were being sold at concerts for $30. It was a hot item, and now only hardcover programs are available -- for $40.

A merchandising company called Bravado -- which recently was absorbed under the Universal umbrella along with Trinifold, Plant's management for longer than a decade -- is handling the sale of concert souvenirs. The company also sells Led Zeppelin memorabilia online, with the group's online store on the official Web site. Some concertgoers in Columbia, Md., came to the show wearing shirts with Zep's Mothership logo, probably ordered via Bravado.

Tote bags, which are adorned with Plant's feather symbol from the Led Zeppelin era and a heart assumedly representing Krauss, are $10 at the shows. About four different T-shirt designs are available at $20 apiece. Opening act Sharon Little also has T-shirts there as well as her CD. A disc of T Bone Burnett's is also available.

Strangely, there are no copies of Plant and Krauss's Raising Sand there. That's too bad for folks like the man and woman my buddy and I spoke to in line before the gates opened. She was a fan of rock music, and he was a fan of all music and the owner of an extensive collection of 45s his brother steals from. But neither of them had heard Raising Sand. My buddy actually sold them on the idea of buying the album. Well, they didn't have their chance to buy it from Bravado at the show. Hopefully, they enjoyed the show and are inspired to pick it up at a later date.

If their experience of the concert was anything like ours in row four, it was exciting. Every song was well received, and the band's performance was tight under the direction of T Bone Burnett. It improves from show to show -- this was my fourth and the best yet.

What I notice about Plant's performance is how seriously he's striving to do everything perfectly. Krauss? Either she really is as wonderful and note-perfect as she comes across or she hides it well. Whenever Plant hits a bum note (like he did in "Please Read the Letter") or misses part of a line (like he did in "The Battle of Evermore"), his facial expressions let you know he's not satisfied.

But those moments are few and far between. More often, those in the audience witness carefree moments of sheer fun. This was best exemplified tonight when Plant and Krauss laughed together from the side of the stage, during a song neither was singing, when they had the chance to watch a man in the front row who was swaying and dancing to whatever hallucinations he may have been having. It put me in the mindset to remember Joe Cocker at Woodstock; Cocker opens for the Steve Miller Band soon at the same venue.

The only Friday the 13th moment of the evening came during "Gone, Gone, Gone," when the curtains missed their cue to drop all at once and reveal a shimmering backdrop for the entire stage. I hope some enterprising photographers in the audience were wise enough to capture that moment as Plant and Krauss took notice of the mishap before it was quickly corrected by a stagehand. Their frolicking resumed at the end of the song, which for once featured more dancing from Krauss than from Plant. But Plant was barely dancing at all this time, so the couple of moves and poses she made took the cake.

The musical highlights of the night were too many to pick only a few. "The Battle of Evermore" awarded them the first widespread standing ovation of the night. What's stunning about hearing that song live is that Plant's vocals so closely resemble his vocals on the album version of that song, just as it first appeared in 1971. Tonight, he gave us a string of "Bring it, bring it, bring it, bring it ..." just as on the album, something I hadn't heard him do at any of the three earlier shows I attended.

Another vivid highlight, just as in Atlantic City last Sunday, was the little extra in Plant's delivery of the Townes Van Zandt tune "Nothin'." Tonight, instead of scatting before a verse, he just belted out a high note and really let it reverberate inside the old pavilion. That sent shivers down my spine. Thank goodness for the two West Virginians to my immediate left, Leslie and Laura, who helped me recover from that note.

These new friends of mine say they travel to see Krauss perform at least once every year, and they'd just seen Plant and Krauss in Roanoke, Va., and decided with only a few hours' notice to snag a pair of tickets online and trek up to Maryland to relive the occasion. While they were there for Krauss, I am sure I heard Leslie comment that Plant is the sexiest man ever. That's funny; my mirror begs to differ.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve,

    Another great review it's nice to read reviews from someone going to multiple shows and discussing the changes they see at each show attended.
    Thanks as always.


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