I've always made it a policy to not get down on old folks, particularly when it comes to not having the same energy or disposition as youngsters. I reminded myself that if I lived through my youth, I too one day would wind up "old." I realized early on that most young people neglect to admit to this fact of life.
However, I can't ignore the facts when it comes to Robert Plant's show at Dodge Theatre last night. And, well, that dude is old.
Musty, creaky, paunchy, tired, aged -- old. This man was once the self-proclaimed Golden God of Rock? I was a little bit taken aback at just how much foe former Led Zeppelin singer has aged, and how this has affected his performance.
Before you get all up and arms, and accuse me of having unrealistic expectations, you should know a few things. First of all, I'm an admitted young person with an admitted age bias. Everyone has it. And I own up to it. Secondly, I saw Robert Plant five years ago, when he was on tour in support of his last studio album. Granted, my tastes have changed in the last five years, but I remember the concert then being enjoyable, even if it didn't stand out as one of the better ones I had ever seen.
Last night's show just felt forced. Everything seemed like a struggle, and it seemed more like Plant was going through the motions than actually performing. Whether or not he was tired, stoned, or a combination of the two is unclear. Sure, he half heartedly picked up the mic stand and danced around with it, gyrating his hips and all. Standard, Plant, right? It actually had an "ick" effect, though, adding a slightly creepy air to the whole thing.
Plant's backup band was full of phenomenal musicians, and in a lot of ways, it felt like they out-shined him. The songs that were prettiest, and most memorable throughout the night were often ones where the Band of Joy either took the lead, or played a bigger role. The new arrangements of Led Zeppelin songs just made the music seem like it had aged as much as Plant. His voice certainly ain't what it used to be (understandably) but the necessary adjustments to the hard rock songs weren't made, and the attempt just seemed lazy.
What really kills me is that there are plenty of "old" musicians who have not merely aged gracefully, but whose voices and work have gained a newfound maturity and beauty. Plant and Bruce Springsteen are contemporaries in every sense of the word -- rising to fame around the same time and within a year of each other age-wise -- and yet the vast difference in demeanor between the two just-over-60 rock singers could not be more apparent.
While guys like The Boss don't sound like they did at their peak, they don't attempt to either. They embrace their age and their changing vocal cords with a certain endearing charm. For these musicians, you can hear all of their life experiences in each note, and you not only appreciate them, but respect them. I was really sad to see that this was not the case for Plant.
Much of the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the performance though, even if he only played a handful of songs that were familiar to most. I have to give them props for not wanting more radio hits than they got. And while I'm sure this pleasant crowd reaction also means that many of these fans would disagree entirely with what I've said, I would argue that for them the nostalgia component was too great for them to be able to analyze the performance in any other light or context -- which is okay. Music was never meant to be an objective experience. While I overheard most of the crowd muttering what an awesome time it was, this was just sadly something that I, and I suspect a lot of others under 50, weren't able to experience.
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Last Night: Robert Plant and the Band of Joy at the Dodge Theatre.
Better Than: Being near Tempe Town Lake last night.
Personal Bias: While I have been told by several New Times colleagues that one's level of coolness peaks in their early- to mid-20s and then slowly diminishes after that, I'm still young. This concert made me swear to the friend I went with that we would never get old. The notion is too sad.
Random Detail/Biggest Irony of the Night, etc...: The dam burst at Tempe Town Lake (I believe while the show was going on) and ironically, Plant didn't play "When the Levee Breaks." We gotcha covered though.