Ottawa, Canada
December 15
Greetings! I am a terminal music fan who will be writing about my life as a concertgoer from 1975 to the present. It’s about the music but also about the lives lived along with it. Many entries will feature a scan of the original ticket as well as a recollection of each gig as a whole experience rather than simply being a description of the performance. Therefore, this blog will be a mixture of memoir, concert review, music history, and philosophical musing. Concurrently, I will be writing about shows that I am seeing in the present. Thanks to Cublet for artwork assistance. **** I’m on Facebook ( mylifeinconcert) ... and have just launched a YouTube channel, VATV ( I also re/cross-post on my stand-alone blog ( Non-OS members who wish to comment can do so over at that site. *****

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JULY 21, 2011 8:39AM

My Life – In Concert! 160.Robert Plant, 2011

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160. The Rain Song: Robert Plant & the Band of Joy with Bahamas, Ottawa Jazz Festival, Confederation Park, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Thursday June 23, 2011, $40.

Ottawa Jazz Festival 2011 Pass Bracelets 

Robert Plant Ottawa Jazz Festival 2011 

2011s Ottawa Jazz Festival, sporting its oft un-jazzy high profile headliners, is kicked off under dark skies with Robert Plant to a full house in Confederation Park. (Photo of the wristband passes by VA; the image is from the festival booklet).


Upon us all a little rain must fall 

... from The Rain Song by Led Zeppelin from Houses of the Holy (1973)

VariousArtists Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy Halifax 1973 

VariousArtists, aged 10 in 1973, holding up my newly purchased copy of Led Zeppelin's then-latest release, Houses of the Holy, in a Halifax hotel room while on an east coast vacation with my family. (Photo by VA Snr.)

After a shaky start, spring sprung around these parts in 2011 with a welcome excess of gorgeous warmth and sunshine. Late May through springs conclusion was pure meteorological sweetness. And so it was all the more frustrating when this years highly anticipated Ottawa Jazz Festival began amid the temperature suddenly dipping and the skies turning from sunny to dark and grumpy for several days of wet sogginess. Jesus Murphy!

The 2011 edition of the Ottawa Jazz Festival has been controversial in its booking of several decidedly non-Jazz headliners over the Fests first few days. Unlike Ottawas Bluesfest, which has retained its name but ceased being a blues festival a good decade ago, the Jazz festival has remained fairly focussed on its namesakes genre (also, unlike Bluesfest this year, the Jazz Festival had an impressive line up). I love Jazz but am not fussy about festival labels and dont like to turn down opportunities to see artists Im into so I was chuffed, with a set of four opening days featuring Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, and Pink Martini.

Kicking off the Fest-ivities, though, is the old poodle-haired hammer of the gods himself, Robert Plant. OK, I know that for a lot of people, Led Zeppelin are the shit and all but, for me, while I do love them, am a fan, and have most of their catalogue (but find many of their albums patchy, truth be told), theyve never been one of my very favourites. Tops of my B List, hows that? Still, I listen to them plenty and had cash put aside a few years ago when it appeared they were going to tour following the The O2 Arena concert in 2007. Yep, I had the delusional notion that, along with a zillion other tuneheads, I would be able to see one of the North American gigs but, alas, the tour never came to be.

Robert Plant Ottawa June 2011 

Robert Plant, June 23, 2011, Ottawa Jazz Festival. Photo and effects by VA.

And so it is on this occasion that I finally get to see Mr. Lemon Song himself, Percy (as hes known in some corners), for the first time. I have to admit that Ive never been keen on his solo output -- until recently. For me, the turn came with 2005s Mighty ReArranger. A number of songs from it caught my ear as they sported a more adventurous sound that was a little different for Plant. That change in direction was left in the dust with another more austere, rootsier one that debuted on Raising Sand, his 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss. That album I full-on love, playing the dickens out of it over the past few years, it featuring many particular favourites of mine such as Please Read the Letter, Gone Gone Gone, and Rich Woman.

Plants latest is Band of Joy, the title recalling his pre-Zep hippy band from the 60s even though Robert is the only Band of Joy-er this time around. While not as distinctive as Raising Sand, its still a terrific outing, mixing that albums understated rustic flourishes with some of the more left field touches from ReArranger.

Raising Sand Robert Plant with Alison Krauss Band of Joy 

Raising Sand with Alison Krauss (2007) and Band of Joy (2010). Below, click through for the former’s “Please Read the Letter” video.

With all that in mind, I would have been more than pleased if the set had been nothing more than recent solo Plant stuff with some Zeppelin tunes thrown in. Well, as it turned out, thats damn near exactly what I got. Serendipity! 

Cublet decided to sit out M. Golden God and so our friend Sebado Hepburn came along. Lightly spitting slate black skies, accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning, hovered above as I met Sebado at the front gates, with all attending anticipating a momentary cloudburst. While I was glad to still be dry at that time, a storm threat does eat away at your enjoyment to some degree as youre distracted, anxious, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Maybe hell do The Rain Song,’” I pondered.

To hell with the darkening skies, declared Sebado and I. We were committed to having a fun time and so we did, setting up our chairs in about the middle of what turned out to be a full park of 11,000. During some settling-in beers, we watched someone on stage who turned out to be Bahamas -- Feist sideman Afie Jurvanen -- who I saw open for Wilco last year. I was again similarly impressed.

Pink Strat Bahamas 2009 

Pink Strat by Bahamas (2009).  Click through on the cover image for the video to Hockey Teeth.

Plant was a half hour late getting on but delighted one and all immediately by launching into a funky take on Black Dog. Backed by a group of Nashville-based players along with singer Patty Griffin, Plant and the group ditched most of the classic rock clichés that have marred much of his previous solo stuff for me, going for something earthier, moodier, layered, impressionistic. This Band of Joy focussed on grooves, nuance, and breathing space. While I have a greater love of Zeppelin, Im more drawn by nature to what Plant is doing these days, the results having their own stand-alone delights that couldnt happen in LZ. For example, if a violin bow appeared in this ensemble, it would be well put to use Im sure, whereas whenever I watch live footage of Zeppelin and see Jimmy Page reach for one, I always want to tap him on the shoulder and say put it down, luv.

Mr. Honeydripper was in agile voice in for Angel Dance followed by a countrified take on What Is and What Should Never Be,” tonight notable for some great slide playing from Darrell Scott. Further LZ numbers showed up during the night including Black Country Woman and a nicely skewed Misty Mountain Hop.

Plant & the Band of Joy deliver a slightly funky take on Led Zep’s “Black Dog,” on the opening night of the 2011 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

In my neck of the audience woods, though, Seb and I had a whole other second spectacle raging on just down from us. Arriving just as the concert started, a particular twosome waded through the crowd, finally planting themselves about 10 feet away from us in a small open spot surrounded by boomers in chairs.

She was a very short blonde woman who appeared almost as Mason Reese in drag, sporting a Dolly Parton-cum-Johnny Thunders-style wig (or really brittle hair if it actually was hers), out on a date with Daddy Warbucks in a Hawaiian shirt. Throughout the show, she performed a non-stop expressionistic, interpretive dance, such was her orgiastic joy of Percy, flailing her head and body in every direction, regularly high-kicking her pointed-toe foot up to the heavens while constantly shaking one fist in the air. Amid the insistent pose-striking were erupting gyrations, as if she was giving birth to a never-ending succession of kittens.

Think Merce Cunningham meets Girls Gone Wild. Its like a stripper without the pole, observed a massively bemused Sebado.

Meanwhile, Daddy Warbucks sat crouching down so as not to obscure anyones view. It also aided in giving Isadora Duncan some balance to her physical convulsions as he chained smoked, smirking constantly with a lurid grin, as she got up to all sorts in the proximity his person.

Folks, stuff like this is half the reason I go to live shows.

Then there were the yuppies perched next to us, silent, as hubby knitted a yet-to-be-identifiable garment.

I dare say that things have rather retreated from the Salò-level of debauchery of those old Zep tours and audiences. I mean, whatever happened to good old fashioned audience ODs and passing out amidst cheering and barfing? Back then, you knew youd had an evening out and a time of it when you could barely remember a damn thing after copious mugs of Purple Jesus.

Plant was decidedly chirpy. On several occasions, he talked about his love and appreciation for the rich history of music that exists for him to draw upon and renew him, particularly the legacy of British music in the 40 or so years hes been an active participant, mentioning this in advance of performing a song by one of his favourites, Richard Thompsons House of Cards. Later on he talked about pulling inspiration from a variety of musics from throughout the 19th and earlier 20th centuries and how much he was looking forward to travelling through some of the older European regions such as Russia and Lithuania, bringing some of it back to the source as it were.

Robert Plant Ottawa June 2011 


During the show, Plant handed off a few songs to other band members. Three days earlier, I had seen Brian Wilson do the same thing, creating a real buzz kill. It might be that Brian needs little breaks in the evening to make it feasible or perhaps simply as a voice rest. Whatever the reason, it was heavily distracting, often breaking the mood. It didnt come off that way during Roberts set. Guitarist Buddy Miller sang while Plant wailed on the harmonica, later switching vocal posts with Patty Griffin on a number, and providing backing vocals on Darrell Scotts cover of Satisfied Mind.

Plant was simply seeing the evening as partly a band experience, showing his respect and enthusiasm for his fellow musicians by spotlighting their talents and also giving himself something different to do during the set, keeping it fresh and interesting for himself. My take is that Plant and his musical comrades were having a ball up there. It was anything but phoned in. And while Plant remained the nights star, his whole meshing with and highlighting his band meant that hes more interested in making good music while enjoying himself than stroking his star ego (not much, anyway).

Unsurprisingly, the Band of Joy album dominated the show, delivered via rich interpretations by a group of musicians truly in sync, in all senses. Plant obviously relished sinking into Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” and the dark, droney “Monkey.” The one kicker for me? They never played my personal fave from the disc, You Cant Buy My Love.

Moody Plant with Patty Griffin, on Band of Joy’s “Monkey” at Ottawa’s Confederation Park.

As the show veered into the final stretch, he pulled out Raising Sands Please Read the Letter and the rain came down. First, moderately, just enough to be irritating, yet not enough to send anyone packing. Followed by an in-a-drizzly-mist Misty Mountain Hop, he winkingly hoped that everyone would enjoy the rest of the festival and look forward to Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, and all those others jazzers hey! keep in touch. (Note to Robert: Dont get so cheeky lad, at least k.d. and Elvis have cut some jazz sides, Perce.)

After a brief pause, he and the band returned for an encore of Gallows Pole. There had been a guy in the audience screaming for it all night, and when Plant launched into it, I thought the guy was going to tear his own head off. Meanwhile, Isadora Duncan continued to pirou-flail around Warbucks parameter. Sebado and I, being the smutty minded letches that we are, made untold number of jokes about her swinging on his gallows pole later, but Ill leave them out for OS readers delicate constitutions.

Led Zeppelin 3 1970  

Percy peeking out from my copy of Led Zeppelin 3's die cut holes. (Scan by VA)

Plant wailed through the Led Zeppelin 3 nugget as the rain truly, finally began to throttle down. And with another ta ra, he and the band exited amid the downpour as we all filed out to Eddie Cochrans Sittin in the Balcony” playing through the loudspeakers. 

While he didnt play the Rain Song, Gallows Pole became a rain song. In fact, there would be many in the weeks to come. While my luck through the years with good weather at open air gigs has been remarkably stellar, with about four rain-interrupted shows in over 30 years of outdoor gig-going, my luck ran out to some degree this year with the Jazz Festival and Bluesfest. Rain appeared, or threatened to, on three of the four nights I ventured out for the Jazzfest. During its second week, wherein my schedule was too busy to accommodate any gigs, there were an additional several nights of the wet stuff for the Fest. This must have greatly peeved the new brass at the Jazz Festival, having come up with such an ambitious line-up and then to be frustrated by the rain. Le pleut also became an occasional Bluesfest issue this year too, ending with a full on disaster on the final night that you have no doubt read about.

Gallows Pole,” a traditional number adapted for Led Zeppelin III (1970).

In an exiting crowd that was a moving mushroom garden of umbrellas, Sebado and I kept dry on the way out by sharing his brolly when I said to him Well, the rain held off until the last couple of numbers, so I really cant complain.

A woman in front of me turned around and quipped Thats right, you cant complain.

VariousArtists: Not even just a little bit?

Woman in Front of Me: No, not even a bit.

VA: How about me complaining that if Plant had come on stage on time, then we would have missed the rain

WiFoM: and we probably would have gotten a second encore song as well. OK, you can complain about that.

VA: You see!

The Rain Song” from Houses of the Holy. It’s actually my favourite LZ song, here performed live at Earl’s Court in London, 1975.


Next on Stage à 161. The Other Side of Summer: Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Ottawa Jazz Festival, Confederation Park, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Friday June 24, 2011.

© 2011 VariousArtists

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Great review, great tunes and you can bitch if you want to at the prices they charge these days!
not a fan of plant.. yes there are a few of us.. but this was well done as usual. I was so glad that you sold your Cheap Trick ticket.. I just wish they would stop playing the video over and over on the news..
It was awful.
Robert Plant now there is a legend and you proved it with this insightful and well documented post. Love the guy you don"t get many like him any more.
thank you for ontroducing me to the sounds I had not heard before!
I tried to leave a comment earlier but I seem to be having a bit of computer troubles from my end. Ugh. If Robert is the Rainman, let him shower us, Various. We could use it in more ways than one!

I'll be coming back to listen fully here. My friend in Nashville ran to Plant in a (old legendary) bar there and tried to remain composed while he talked to her. She told me she later had to pick her jaw up off the floor.

I will dive into this fully later. Thanks.
(Listening to Rain Song as I comment) This was a great concert review on so many levels, my friend. I'm glad your overall experience was exactly what I'd experienced a few months ago when I saw Plant in all his Golden Godness--he was having f-u-n up there with his band. More smiles and casual chat with the audience than I ever remember seeing with LZ. I am sorry for his tardiness, however. As your post concert exit conversation showed, the rain would have missed you, another encore, etc. I'm always amazed when someone says they are not really a Plant fan--I just don't get it. I respect it, I just don't get it. He was such a seminal sound of the British Invasion and left an indelible mark on the time. I'm glad you've embraced his solo, or should I say post-Zeppelin sound. Now let's talk about the spastic dancer....oh my god! Your description had me giggling aloud. I think that chick has been at every show I've ever gone to. A+ on this one! Looking onward for the next...
Merce meets Girls Gone Wild and you didn't have a video camera?
Sounds awesome!! Great review, I enjoyed it,even if I'm with Linda on Plant, though the cd with Alison Krauss was a pleasant suprise.
scanner: Yep, a lot of gigs are pricey for sure these days, part of the reason why I always list the concert price, to show how that's changed substantially through the years, even when taking inflation into account. That said, this one was a pretty good deal as part of a reasonably priced festival. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Linda: I had thought about going to see Death Cab for Cutie on that Sunday night at Bluesfest and, had I done so, certainly would have shown up early evening and been there for the stage collapse. Suffice it to say, I am sooooo glad I sold my tix for that night. It was indeed awful but I'm just relieved no one was killed. I can assure you, if the stage had fallen forward rather than backward there would have been fatalities. Thank heavens for small miracles.

Algis: Thanks so much Algis. Yes, it turned out to be a bit of a Legends week for me.

Elijah: Glad to be of service.

Scarlett: That's a great story re: your friend. I've heard from a few sources through the years that Plant is supposed to be relatively down to earth.

lschmoopie: Thanks a bunch, lschmoopie, for your continued support. As for those who are not fans ... I guess because the majority of what I'm into from all areas of the arts tends to be more on the margins, particularly in a North American context, I never assume that anyone is necessarily going to like anything I do and vice versa. And while I love Plant's last couple of albums, I don't really like any of the stuff before it and post-Zeppelin. Also, there are certain aspects of LZ that are problematic for me, so I can somewhat understand where others are coming from. As for that dancer, that's burned in my memory forever now. We were pretty fascinated.

Yserba: I had my camera with me that has a video feature. I don't think I took any shots or video because they were essentially standing just a few feet away and it would have been hard to do without drawing attention to myself filming them, but now I really wished I had.
Okay, I'm back. Love the photos and what you've done to them. Great reportage of crowd life especially Miss You-Know-Who. I think we're on the same page as far a LZ goes. In the small town where I was a teenager, the LedHeads had a pretty tough culture into serious drugs. Though I might not seem all sugar-cakes myself, I thankfully opted out of the fun and games before I ever got into it. I was more CSN&Y crowd if you catch the ::whiff:: plus I never ever dug the way RP sang about the honey dripping et al. Well, you know. The last decade however I've fallen into the Zep Renaissance realm and if Misty Mountain Hop, Black Dog, Ramble On or Immigration Song comes on the car radio on my drive, I'm having a grand day. I fear I've been converted and fallen in love with J. Page and the silver hair and lovely voice after watching, It Might Get Loud. I listened to the above and it's the original LZ for me, however Plant has got a few tunes that have grabbed. And Christ for a 60-something, he's fit as a fiddle. (Sorry to take up so much white space, it's easier than a PM).
p.s. Watch out for those crazy clouds over Ottawa!
You're really developing your niche as a reviewer Various. I tood had mixed feelings about Zep. Very good first couple of albums. Thereafter, one or maybe two good songs per outing. I didn't follow Plant's solo work much. The occasional song sounded OK but no matter; it's the mark of a the reviewer's craft that the review can be enjoyed regardless of its subject matter. Glad you weren't the Pres of the local Cheap Trick fanclub.
Scarlett: Thanks re: the photos. I had hoped they might looked like paintings. Also thanks for your take on your connection to Zep. For me, while my tastes are all over the map, LZ were/are a bit of an odd group for me to like. In the early-mid 70s, the rock music I listened to was more in the glam camp, like Bowie, New York Dolls, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, or the more song-focussed performers like Elton John or Rod Stewart. While not exactly heavy metal, Zep were more in that camp and, a handful of exceptions aside, that's never been my thing. But I think they were/are in a league of their own, although the OTT elements of the band appear to me as alternately frustrating but sometimes also really, really funny.

Pretty much from the time that punk hit through the mid-80s, I couldn't listen to them but re-discovered them at that time, which is when I did a lot of re/discovering from the past. (And don't apologize ... always great to see you here). My friend's nickname, M. Zeppelin, is indeed a reference to LZ but that's a story for another time.

Abra: I'm very pleased to read what you had to say about being able to enjoy the piece without necessarily being a fan, which would be one of my goals. The music is of course important to me but it also serves as a bit of a lens through which I can look at other tangential things as well. As for LZ's output, it gets really thin for me post-Physical Graffiti (which I think would have made a great single disc), but the only one I like all the way through is Houses of the Holy. As for Plant's solo career, I really wasn't a fan but utterly love that Raising Sand disc with Krauss, with his new one in a similar vein. And, yep, sure glad I wasn't at that Cheap Trick show. My overview of the Bluesfest shows I saw is coming up in a few weeks.
Ooooooo. Robert Plant, to me, is better now than he was as a young stud strutting the stage back when. I find him far more interesting at this age, and this...explains why. Great job!
If I can name-drop just a little, my husband had the incredible good fortune to do the mastering on the "Band of Joy" CD. I'll never forget when he called me up at work one day and said, "Guess who I just got off the phone with? Robert Plant!" He was so excited to work on that project (but disappointed that it didn't win a Grammy).

We were supposed to go see him in concert in February, but we had a freak snow storm here, and it just didn't happen. Glad you got to go, and your review was great!
Keka: While I love Zeppelin, I agree that his career is so interesting these days. It must be incredible for him to have been in the game this long and be doing such fresh, innovative things at this point in his career. Always love getting your input, Keka.

Jeanette: ... And there is his name in the credits! How lucky for him to not only get to work with Plant but on one of his finest discs, too. Sorry to hear that you missed seeing him on the tour but glad that you stopped by here to share your story. Thanks muchly.
Canada does it right, yo. As do you, VA! Robert Plant finally got me for good with 'Sea of Love' and it's only gotten worse from worse I mean much, much better.
Best regards to Elvis C. ~