Robert Plant played a rare club show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom Sunday night, backed by the group behind his rootsy new project, Band of Joy (named after his mid-Sixties psychedelic-blues outfit). In a 100-minute set performed before less than a thousand fans, Plant presented solo material and several revitalized Led Zeppelin classics, retooling many with an ethereal, reverb-heavy sound.
The group emerged a few minutes past 9 p.m. and played “Monkey,” a dark, eerie track off Band of Joy, which was cut in Nashville. Plant, who wore a partly unbuttoned blue shirt and tight jeans, was chatty and playful. He introduced “Please Read the Letter” — co-written with Jimmy Page — as “a song written a couple hundred years ago by a very ubiquitous couple.” During “Down to the Sea,” he repeated the phrase “when I get older” many times, playing with the phrasing, then making bug eyes, like he’d just realized he’s 62.
The singer was in fine form playing Zep classics, especially with his innovative takes on “Misty Mountain Hop” (less guitar-centered) and a mellow, steel-driven “Houses of the Holy.” “Rock and Roll” featured a raucous rockabilly-style solo from producer-guitarist Buddy Miller; the main set climaxed with “Gallows Pole,” built around Darrell Scott’s ragged banjo.
All the band’s members got a share of the spotlight. When Miller sang the heavy blues shuffle “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go,” Plant slid behind vocalist Patty Griffin, and played bluesy harmonica. Darrell Scott took center stage for an acoustic, soulful take on the country classic “Satisfied Mind.” And the band finished with the gospel traditional “I Bid You Goodnight,” which unfolded with nearly every member taking a verse, an appropriately intimate end to the evening.
Before that, as the group came onstage for their encore, Plant took a moment to reflect on his newfound passion for old-time and country music: “There are many things I’ve learned in the last few years. I thought I knew about American music. All the British guys, we spend time staring into Mississippi in a crystal ball, but we miss the mountains of Tennessee, the plains of Texas. Now, I’ve found a new place to look.”