Robert Plant, it seems, does everything different these days. When an artist plays Toronto one weekend, and New York the next, it is normal that New York is the one everyone talks about, even while the artist is in Toronto. For Robert Plant, who is playing New York this weekend to a wall of silence, last weekends Toronto shows are again being talked about.
The Observer’s Ed Vulliamy spent last weekend with Plant in Toronto talking in depth with Plant about his motivations for performing, how he gets to the shows, and the Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“There’s no plan,“ Plant tells Vulliamy, “this band has a life of it’s own.” Those are key words. When wondering what will Plant do, he is just as much in the dark as you are. Last week I penned a piece called, What’s Next for Robert Plant? chronicling his desire to write with Band of Joy after telling Rolling Stone he was done writing. The real answer to the question what’s next for Robert Plant lies in that answer, “there’s no plan.” And if that means Robert Plant is moving on from where his fans are musically, drifting out of significance, he understands that:
The further I get into it, the harder it will be to get a gig in the Top Rank. I won’t fit. If I continue doing this, it will mean obsolescence for me… I’m just incredibly fortunate that my eyes and ears have been opened. I have to be honest with myself and remove as much of the repetition and fakery as is humanly possible.
Unlike other interviews, other comments, Plant is also more conciliatory, less dismissive, towards his time in Led Zeppelin:
“We were great when we were great. I was part of something magnificent which broke the Guinness Book of Records, but in the end, what are you going to get out of it? Who are you doing it for? You have to ask these questions: who pays the piper, and what is valuable in this life? I don’t want to scream ‘Immigrant Song’ every night for the rest of my life, and I’m not sure I could.
Comments like “who pays the piper,” probably say more about why Robert Plant turned down huge money for a Led Zeppelin reunion. A tour the size of Zeppelin would be a machine grinding away at Plant’s creative impulses. Besides, how would a reunited Zeppelin get to the gigs? Not, I suspect, by Plant’s preferred method:
It’s all by bus. It’s a great way to see America and a great way to meet interesting people. But most of all, I want to be on these kinds of terms with these kinds of people. There’s no point in doing it any other way, and if I did, I’d feel uncomfortable. I’ve got a big name, but I’ve always wanted to be in a band, one of a band… I do not want to arrive to join the band in a limo.
Plant is also less dismissive than he has been about other artists continuing to play their old songs, touring with 40 year old music:
It would become progressively more difficult to talk about music at a whist drive. All my colleagues that I’ve known and loved - our lives have been lived in parallel for 40 years - and you have to say: each to their own. People get off on what they want to get off on - I’m not going to tell anyone how to live…
Leaving aside his comments, direct or indirect, about Led Zeppelin, Plant has a lot to say about The Band of Joy as well.
I wonder sometimes, how did I get into this family of people?” Sometimes I feel as though I’m not contributing so much as getting away with it… this band has a life of its own. It’s breaking down all the terminologies; all the terms that apply to different genres are being torn asunder.
It’s about contribution. Everyone is throwing themselves into this abstraction called Band of Joy, and no one knows what it is. But we know how to find it, and we go looking. I asked Nic (Nicola Powell, his manager from Merthyr Tydfil ) if my rambling between songs on stage is getting too obscure. She says no, it’s just about mad enough to capture the spirit of the thing
Why, at his age, does Robert Plant keep doing it at all when he could easily retire to the Black Country, watching the Wolverhampton Wanderers and minding the legacy of Led Zeppelin?
I would say it was restlessness if it was not something else, which is inquisitive curiosity and the need to challenge myself. It’s a two-dimensional gig being a singer, and you can get lost in your own tedium and repetition.
Plant’s inability to not get lost in tedium and repetition is what fans both love and hate about him. It explains the great moments in his career, why Led Zeppelin didn’t stop progressing after Led Zeppelin II, or their fourth album. It also explains why he is riding the busses with Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin and not jetting around the world with Led Zeppelin; why he is doing two nights at The Beacon Theatre and not seven at Madison Square Garden; why Rock and Roll is now a bluegrass number.
The Band is getting better as well, Plant tells Vulliamy. “Something went up a notch in Ann Arbor( the night before Toronto).” It continues into the Toronto show:
a spell of sorts descends on the Canadian theatre, too, an alchemic moment, and the musicians Cheshire cat grin at one another, because they know.