All eyes are on Robert Plant when he steps on stage — especially his band's.
If you're going to play with the rock 'n' roll icon, you've got to be ready to follow.
"When you're working with Robert you can only rehearse so much and then it doesn't matter anymore because you have to have your eyes glued on him the entire night," guitarist Buddy Miller said in an interview with his tour bandmate, singer-songwriter and guitarist Patty Griffin. "No matter what the arrangement was, he's just all feel."
"It's all spontaneous," Griffin said.
Plant might give a nod or a vocal cue and the band heads off in an unexpected direction. That might be the unifying theme for Plant's latest project, which he calls "an adventure." New album "Band of Joy" is out in September and he's on the road with a mostly unfamiliar cast of players who happen to have Nashville's deepest street cred.
All this adds up to a show with several surprises for fans — "Band of Joy" songs mixed in with "Raising Sand" favorites, solo material and an eclectic collection of Led Zeppelin songs. His aim for Zeppelin songs like "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Houses of the Holy" is to make them feel like they are "crawling out of the swamp, not coming out of the bordello."
"Even the old songs are brand-new," Plant said. "There's nothing being reproduced that's ever been heard the way it's being played now ... it's all different. So we've got a hotbed of about 22 songs, which will grow and grow. And you know, it's just yet another opportunity for me to extend the manacles that are around my ankles, to get further and further out into the world of beautiful music."
Plant offered a generous helping of Zeppelin favorites on the tour's first two dates in Memphis, Tenn., and Little Rock. The concerts featured a song each for Miller and Griffin, and Plant has plans to include more songs by the band, which also includes multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, bassist Byron House and drummer Marco Giovino. He wants a revue feel for the tour, his first headlining performances since the "Raising Sand" tour wrapped 15 months ago. That partnership with Alison Krauss and producer T Bone Burnett netted six Grammys.
This time out he enlisted Miller's help and put together the band on the guitarist's recommendation. Griffin was a late addition, but one who adds important depth to the new songs on the album and to old favorites on stage. Plant said the two singers have a special connection.
"I can feel it without a word spoken and we sing together like crazy," he said. "It's like a rockin' thing. It's like the Andrews Sisters on acid, you know. It's really great — revelatory really. She let's fly. She really lets it go."