Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lesson in Charisma

In the wake of his unceremonious firing, a lot of people have linked to and discussed Robert Christgau's final major Villiage Voice feature, in which he relates his experience of taking in 32 shows in 30 days. I just read it the other day, and this passage jumped out at me, about Robert Plant's appearance at the Arthur Lee benefit concert, in part because it sort of surprised me, and because it gave me a weird unearned sense of pride, as a long-time Zep fan:
But the big-ticket house, which wasn't full, had come for Robert Plant. Plant owns any room he enters. He could have fobbed off three Loves, three Zeps, a solo promo, and "Danny Boy." Instead he spent two days with the pickup band, rehearsing a set that honored Lee personally and culturally. The Zeps were early, the Loves exquisite. "For What It's Worth" led to a Hunter-assisted Everlys tune (the Elderly Brothers, Weitzman called them) and "Can't Help Falling in Love." Highlighted was "Hey Joe"—a perfect Zep-Love link, misogyny and all. And into the middle of a psychedelic fantasia—based on his own 2002 revival, not Love's peppy single or Hendrix's psychodrama—Plant inserted "Nature Boy," an inspired evocation of Arthur Lee the L.A. eccentric even if you didn't know its composer was an L.A. longhair when there were no longhairs and its hit version a turning point for black pop pathfinder Nat Cole. At 57, Plant no longer had his high end. But because the music was new and the occasion felt, he was singing fresh. This wasn't the somewhat automatic mastery of great Springsteen or Stones. It was a lesson in charisma full of near misses and intricate meshes, the most life-affirming thing I witnessed all month. My daughter and I fought through the rain at 1:30 a.m. just as if we weren't exhausted.



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