Robert Plant on stage last summer at Taste of Chicago. (Sun-Times file)The Led Zeppelin reunion never toured, with or without singer Robert Plant, and I for one say thank the golden gods.
After the legendary band’s 2007 performance at London’s O2 arena — nearly complete with Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham subbing for his late father, John Bonham — fans around the world braced their credit cards for a whole lotta love. But the eagerly anticipated tour never materialized.
Reasons for the fizzle were foggy. The band wanted to tour, and the offer was up to $200 million to hit the road — but Plant was the holdout. As he waved away the idea, the others considered hiring another singer and going out without him. That idea “got as close as you can possibly get,” Bonham said. In the end, nothing happened. “It would have been nice to have played more concerts,” Page told the Times of London last year. “But it doesn’t look like it.”
ROBERT PLANT & THE BAND OF JOY
with the North Mississippi Allstars
8 p.m. April 9
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress
Tickets, $45-$95, (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com
Note: Plant & the Band of Joy will be back in the area this summer, playing June 16 at Ravinia.
Plant seemed annoyed by the prospect of lumbering around shouldering that legacy again. “I’ve gone so far somewhere else that I almost can’t relate to it,” he told Rolling Stone in January. “It’s a bit of a pain in the pisser, to be honest. Who cares? I know people care, but think about it from my angle. Soon, I’m going to need help crossing the street.”
In that same interview, Plant sneered at some of his peers (unnamed) who merely recycle old hits and cash the checks. “There’s nothing worse than a bunch of jaded old farts, and that’s a fact. People who have written their story — they’ve gotten to the point where nothing moves. I don’t deal in that.”
As it should be. Rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t built to grow so darn old, and it’s better to let the sleeping “Black Dog” lie. Plant can stand taller as a credible artist because — even if it’s naturally slower and more acoustic these days — he still moves, as he said, and usually forward. Led Zeppelin’s legacy as one of the greatest rock bands in the music’s history is better for Plant’s refusal to reduce his band to the sorry status of the Who.
Instead, Plant can stand with peers like Neil Young or David Bowie because he continues to make interesting and occasionally challenging music, supported by the legacy behind him rather than weighed down by its ongoing maintenance.
“We have to keep pushing, keep opening new ideas,” Plant said as the keynote speaker at the 2005 South by Southwest music conference. Throughout a solo career that’s now more than three times as long as his stint in Zeppelin, he’s done just that. Not always successfully, sure, but he’s been energized and adventurous — excited by music, a fan.
“Dreamland,” his 2001 album of new music and covers, showcased this better than most, fusing his own creative talents with songs from some personal inspirations (Dylan, Tim Buckley, the Youngbloods, etc.). It seemed to galvanize him for the new century and led directly to the earthy ease that worked so well with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss on their 2007 Grammy-winning collaboration, “Raising Sand” — the record he held off the Zeppelin reunion to complete. (Plant and Krauss tried a sequel, he told Rolling Stone, but “the sound wasn’t there. … We’ll come back to it.”)
The album he’s supporting on his current tour, last year’s richly textured “Band of Joy,” balances today and yesterday with remarkable deftness. In between modern selections — two songs by revered Minnesota band Low, plus a cover of Los Lobos’ “Angel Dance,” the video for which was filmed in Little Village when Plant met the band in Chicago last summer (and made a surprise appearance during their encore at Taste of Chicago) — Plant worries more about the legacies of other players and other songs (“Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” the poem “Even This Shall Pass Away”) that weren’t necessarily afforded his moment in the glare.
That glare, his own from his days as the Golden God, he just doesn’t want to revisit.
“You can’t tell the same story for 40 years and think it’s going to be convincing,” he told the Associated Press in September, “because when I was 19 I met Jimmy Page, and I’ll soon be 62. So really, I’ve got to be able to move that story round a little bit, change its colors and also believe in it. It’s not a production line. So these [new] adventures are more challenging.”