Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Review: Robert Plant's Band of Joy, Waterfront Hall, Belfast

Stairway to a very different heaven as a rock god learns the art of restraint

Robert Plant

Resisting the pressure for a full-fledged Led Zeppelin reunion has turned out to be a sound career move for Robert Plant, judging by the success of hooking up with Alison Krauss, for Raising Sand and the enthusiastic reception given to his latest project, The Band of Joy.

If the duets with Krauss investigated Plant's rootsy, country leanings, then his new record sees him dip a toe back into planet pop.

No longer the preening rock god of yore, he has learned the value of self-restraint. No wonder he looks so well on it.

Belfast, of course, holds a special place in Zeppelin mythology. It was at the Ulster Hall in the early ‘70s that the band debuted that milestone, or millstone, in their career, Stairway to Heaven — could tonight be of similar historical importance?

Belfast rockers tend to be well-heeled, as evidenced by the full house tonight, some old enough to remember that historical gig “a mere 39 years ago” as he put it.

Plant has described his current band as his “heart’s desire” and it was a gig that exuded an end-of-term looseness.

Plant shuffled on exuding charisma, weirdly resembling Mick Hucknall's dapper older brother (perhaps that Faces reunion isn't a bad idea after all).

Opening with the flamenco psyche of Down By The Sea, the set majored on his current album, tracks from which like Little Angel Dance started to take on a Zeppelinesque swagger of their own.

There was the odd pleasant surprise — a sprightly Misty Mountain Hop from that 1971 set for instance — but one got the sense that if Plant's old band were to be evoked, it would be at his behest, rather than the audience’s.

Indeed Plant was relaxed and confident enough to let his band take guest spots, playing a mean harp at the back of the stage as guitarist Buddy Miller rocked the joint with Take Me Where Trouble Don't Go.

And there was a touch of the old Dionysis on the sublime Please Read The Letter and the pulsating You Can't Buy My Love.

Michael Conaghan

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