no bottles thrown at Jazzfest's opening night concert
by Allan Wigney
In January of 1974 George Harrison caught Bob Dylan and The Band in concert. He liked what he saw. And what he saw was a rock and roll legend reinterpreting ― reinventing ― his past. Familiar fan favourites were reborn, given new arrangements, new melodies, new lyrics. Ten months later, when Harrison set out on what would be his only North American tour, he prepared to dazzle Beatle people with “While my guitar tries to smile,” “Something in the way we move it” and “In my life… I love God more.”
Reviews were, let’s say, mixed.
The last time Robert Plant hit town, he offered new old-world imaginings of Led Zeppelin classics like No Quarter and Four Sticks.
Reviews were, let’s say, mixed.
Thursday, as more than 10,000 rockers filled Confederation Park for the opening night of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, such errors in judgement were far from the minds of a crowd hungry for some Zeppelin. It was likely the largest concentration of Led Zeppelin t-shirts ever to attend a Jazzfest concert. (Though, sadly, no sighting of an “And on the 8th day God created…” shirt. Guess those, unlike Zep, weren’t made to last.) Certainly, it was the greatest number of Jason Bonham Ts: two.
They were there to see the man, the legend: Robert Plant. And advance word had it that as much as 50 per cent of the set would be devoted to Zeppelin tunes. (It turned out to be closer to a third.) The more open-minded among the throng were there to see Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller, members of Plant’s band and also legends, if not in the same circles.
The audience began its preparations early, the first whiff of weed coming only minutes after the gates opened. In this case, however, no spliff was required. Rather, the gentlemen standing nearby had arrived at a point where they never have to smoke again to get high ―they, like, just have to put on their leather jackets.
There was a more visible than usual police presence on hand for Jazzfest’s first rock and roll show. Wouldn’t want this crowd to go all Vancouver on us. And sure enough, a handful of up-to-no-goods were overheard vowing that even if asked to sit down, they would continue to stand. Hooligans.
A greater threat stood well above the audience’s heads, as clouds gathered amid much rolling thunder. But at least there was no danger of bottles being hurled at the stage. Bottles, plastic or otherwise, were reportedly banned from the park at the insistence of Plant, who evidently has a fear of projectiles being launched in his direction. Dude, if you don’t want people throwing bottles, just play more Zep songs!
No pictures, either. That was stressed. Funny, really, as Plant looks pretty fine for a senior rocker. I did my best to further accommodate the headliner’s shyness by averting my eyes as the singer hit the stage, and standing well back in the sizeable crowd. Moreover, my gaze was focused primarily on Miller, a guitarist (and songwriter) of some renown. A country boy at heart, Miller at times ― particularly during a powerful version of Down to the Sea ― seemed to be channelling the punk-rock spirit of the late great John McGeoch.
(Siouxsie and the Banshees, anyone? How ’bout laughter? Does anybody remember laughter? There you go.)
Even before Plant hit the stag, the audience had been treated to two bars of Houses of the Holy, cheekily inserted by Alfie Jurvanen and Jason Tait into a Bahamas set that showed promise, but failed to sustain interest. In fairness to Bahamas, the black-shirted crowd was waiting for some Zeppelin. And more than two bars’ worth.
Which they got. Black Dog, What is and What Should Never Be, even Misty Mountain Hop ― each delivered via a new arrangement unlikely to make anyone forget the original. (Led Zeppelin had two brilliant resident arrangers; Plant was not one of them.) The park full of classic-rock devotees, however, filled in the absent Black Dog riffs and pounding What is drums in their heads, just as they have been doing every night since high school. Hence, reviews this time are unlikely to be mixed. Throw in dandy covers of Richard Thompson, Porter Wagoner and even Los Lobos, plus vocals from Miller and Griffin, and you have a show all could enjoy.
Even those who left their leather jackets at home.
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