Warren Haynes is a guy that is known for taking chances, and somehow never stumbles. Mule, Lesh, Allmans, the Dead…the list goes on for projects he has either jump started or revitalized. As for his now main project, Gov’t Mule, his work is impressive. With over 300 songs in their working repertoire, and a working knowledge of cover tunes that is inexhaustible, they are able to pull out some obscure chestnuts to surprise a crowd. But it is Halloween and New Year’s Eve that are considered the ‘main event’. Both evenings are usually dedicated to full on tributes: Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, the Doors….this is only a sampling. Last year’s New Year’s show at the Beacon Theater in New York City featured Robbie Krieger on guitar, as Warren Haynes and company plowed though a full 90 minutes Doors set after midnight.
This year’s theme was announced in October as an AC/DC tribute. Some early rumors had Slash as the ‘special guest'(Slash’s vocalist Myles Kennedy as Bon Scott was the actual guest, also known as Led Zeppelin’s final vocalist in the aborted 2009 Zep reunion) Initial excitement was met with some lingering doubts. Even Angus Young would admit that he is not a really exploratory guitar wizard. Would this be a good template for Gov’t Mule to successfully launch into hyperspace?
The answer? Well not really. Although things were fairly raucous as the band hurtled into Highway to Hell, you could sense some frustration building in the crowd. Myles Kennedy took over lead vocals for the 18 song second set. It was strange to see Gov’t Mule and not see Warren singing for this long. When in the past they have had special guests at a show like this, they were usually musical sidemen, not frontmen. Vocalists were usually given a turn at a song or two. To have someone take over the stage for this long? Weird. The other problem was alluded to earlier. AC/DC songs are not really suited to stretching out musically. Longish solos don’t really feel right, nor are they really vehicles for jumping off to deeper jamming. This is what some in the crowd noticed. Warren, the focus of the band, was relegated for almost two hours to a sideman position. He had been painted into a corner musically from the first notes, and it was very difficult for him to inject his intergalactic guitar extrapolations into these concise tunes. It almost felt half way through the second set as if I were watching a top tier AC/DC cover band, and at 90 bucks a pop for tickets–the most expensive cover band ever. Others around me echoed similar sentiments. Warren looked a bit lost on the sidelines as if even he was starting to wonder if this had been really thought through. Not one of the better Mule shows I have seen, a noble failure if you will. Other things noticed: for the first time in memory, there were no balloons dropped from the ceiling at midnight. Also, the New Years tshirt pictured above as a poster oddly sold out on 12/30 during the show, meaning that everyone who attended on the 31st had no chance to buy a New Years shirt. Some in the crowd were puzzled by this lack of preparation.
Before we finish, I want to be clear: the purpose of this article is not to take pot shots at Warren Haynes for taking chances, on the contrary, this is to point out and thank him for being one of the few out there willing to take some really big chances. In this age of completely scripted and meticulously rehearsed performances that are getting pretty far from what a real rock show once was: getting out there with an idea and seeing what happens–an event like this is pretty rare. Sometimes you fly, sometimes you stumble, but the point is you tried something different and went for it. More folks in rock music need to think this way-what was once a raison d’être is now becoming a dying breed. As Ian Anderson observed decades ago, this business is a Crazed Institution. Take chances, stay crazy and rock on in 2015 folks!
Today, Robert Plant fired back at an itchy Jimmy Page regarding the proposed Led Zeppelin reunion for 2014. Page reportedly said that he was “fed up” with Plant back stepping from his tacit agreement to do a Zeppelin tour this summer, a tour that would be THE blockbuster summer tour of the decade-hell, the millennium. Folks would climb out from under rocks and don their tattered Van Halen 81 tour shirts to throw the mega parking lot party of the century for this. But rather than showing any enthusiasm, we get this: “I think he needs to go to sleep and have a good rest, and think again,” Plant said. “We have a great history together and like all brothers, we have these moments where we don’t speak on the same page but that’s life.” This sounds like someone who has been badgered towards a situation they had not shown any interest in. But is this actually true?
Far from it. In 2013, Robert Plant went on 60 minutes and uttered the following statement on the idea of a reunion-Plant said he was waiting on his bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones in order to kick off the reunion, blaming their silence on the fact that they are Capricorns. Plant said: “They don’t say a word. They’re quite contained in their own worlds and they leave it to me. I’m not the bad guy… You need to see the Capricorns – I’ve got nothing to do in 2014.” Pretty much the only way to interpret this is that once his touring commitments of 2013 were over, the path was clear for a real tour. Well the Capricorns spoke, said they were more than ready, and threw the ball back into Robert’s corner. And Plant kicked it away like a 3rd grader throwing a tantrum on the playground. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Plant angrily declared “I’m not part of a jukebox!”
It is beyond dispute that Plant pretty much came out and said he was ready to do a tour with Zeppelin, that much is clear. And its not like they hadn’t kicked the rust off recently, as evidenced by the 2007 O2 arena reunion. The band can be heard and seen on the blistering Celebration Day album and DVD. There is a joy in the performance and power in the music that still sends chills up and down the spine repeatedly. Plant’s vocal powers were undiminished by the decades that separated this incarnation from the source material. The band was a dangerous machine, not just firing on all cylinders, but sometimes infused by a magickal catalyst that took them beyond what anyone would logically expect of them. After the show, the band was raring to go, but Plant hemmed and hawed about a tour, while the band stayed together as a trio for a full year, waiting for Robert to ‘figure it out’. They finally enlisted Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame, but cooler heads prevailed and all involved realized that Tyler was not the answer.(Myles Kennedy was called in as a replacement to Tyler, and actually participated in full on rehearsals of material both old and new for a while. Whether this stuff sees the light of day is intriguing but doubtful. Page was finally convinced it wasn’t ‘Zep’ without Plant)
So what’s the problem? As far as the ‘part of a jukebox’ comment goes, this completely ignores the Page/Plant reunion of 1994-1998 that spawned the eclectic arabesque reimagination of Zeppelin tunes on No Quarter and the fairly pedestrian Walking into Clarksdale four years later. Lots of Zep in their step for the late 90’s. But what about now?
I saw Robert twice this past summer on the Sensational Space Shifters tour. He kicked ass and took names. He hit all the high notes. All of them. His voice can move mountains. And his set contained about 50% Zeppelin songs. Well that would seem to contradict the jukebox claims, as he never has stopped relying heavily on their material from day one of his solo tours. Again we are left to wonder: what really is the problem? There has to be something deeper to have caused this digging in of heels from the singer, but neither side has offered any explanation. John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Jason Bonham are ready to rock, where is Robert?
I am personally calling out Robert Plant for his disingenuous comments. Your words are your bond, and you led us to believe the zeppelin would be mooring in the States this summer. Now you seem to have forgotten? Like Emile Zola famously said of the Dreyfus case in 1898, “J’accuse…” I will be waiting for an answer.
Update September 30, 2014
Today Jimmy Page had a press conference to air his dismay with Robert Plant’s intransigent attitude towards any form of Led Zeppelin reunion. “I was told last year that Robert Plant said he is doing nothing in 2014, and what do the other two guys think?” Page recently told the New York Times. “Well, he knows what the other guys think. Everyone would love to play more concerts for the band. He’s just playing games, and I’m fed up with it, to be honest with you.”
This response is a perfect counter to the petulance and presumed arrogance that Robert Plant has exhibited around the idea of a reunion. When someone says that they are not doing anything next year when asked about a reunion, what the hell is anyone supposed to think that means other than ‘a reunion is in the offing?’
Robert’s flirting with the reunion is akin to a flirty Hollywoodesque B-girl stringing along a slew of admirers that hope for bigger things from the relationship. And speaking of flirty, let’s address a tangential problem- the Alison Krauss issue. Robert’s association with her led to a single collaborative album in 2007. This association was the main reason for him refusing to go on the road with the Zeppelin crew after the reunion show at O2 in 2007, commitments to a tour with Krauss. But their second album collaboration in 2011 was aborted during early recording sessions by Robert for no apparent reason. The reason whispered by those in the know was fairly immature: Robert had kept pestering Alison to sleep with him, and she flat out refused. And like a petulant child, he bailed and took leave of this cherished project and struck out to fertilize newer pastures, leaving it all behind. So….the main reason he avoided the reunion was the chance to bone Alison Krauss? Great. Now he continues to posit crappy excuses that no one buys for a second. His devotion to his new band in interviews repeats the same things he said about his collaboration with Krauss, and then the Band of Joy in 2010. ‘New, fresh, don’t want to look back, this is what I am really into’…..the same mantra for three radically different projects.
Plant’s quote that irked Page bears repeating again here: “I think he needs to go to sleep and have a good rest, and think again,” Plant said. “We have a great history together and like all brothers, we have these moments where we don’t speak on the same page but that’s life.” said Plant earlier this year. That they are not on the same page is very clear. What is less clear is how everyone in the Zeppelin band, and nearly 100% of the fans can be on the same page and Robert is not.
So, that is not what is happening here, Robert. You have said one thing, made a tacit promise, albeit in a teasing fashion, but a promise nonetheless. Then pretended you didn’t. That is major BS, and is screwing with your fans in a very ugly fashion.
Mick Wall’s excellent Led Zeppelin book quotes more than a few close associates of the band who point the finger directly at Plant. Controlling to the point of dangling his bandmates like puppets, Plant knows he has the upper hand, and can now call the shots, a reversal of the long term Page led paradigm. He seems to have personally spiked four planned reunions since the 1985 shambling Live Aid performance and the even more dreadful 1988’s 40th Anniversary of Atlantic Records party. He drops strong hints of interest, participates for a bit, then pulls away and torpedoes the whole thing.
I reiterate my calling out of Percy. The form of rock n roll that Robert Plant was instrumental in creating is dying on the vine. That much is clear. His refusal to join the ranks of his peers: the Rolling Stones, the Who, Cream (and to a lesser extent bands like Yes, Queen, Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult….the list could go on….)–bands that show that they are proud of what they helped create, and go out and tour to prove it– this refusal cannot be looked at as anything other than pure selfishness. Perhaps some would say fans who share my opinion are just as selfish. But magic like Zeppelin comes but once in a lifetime. To deny the power of that magic to fans clamoring for it? J’accuse Robert, j’accuse.