A Month on the Town

The man who's reviewed 12,000 records reviews 32 shows in 30 days

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.

Les Ambassadeurs and Robert Plant astonished on successive nights. Then there was a letdown. Dragging myself to Warsaw after a bad car day in Queens was righted by a delicious dinner in Chinatown, all I really wanted to do was stay home, play records, read Fonarow, and make out. One reason my wife attended all of my top five shows except the one our favorite Zeppelin fan grabbed is that Gogol Bordello, Sonic Youth, and Ornette Coleman were sure shots. But I wouldn't have loved Les Ambassadeurs so freely without Carola. I wouldn't have had anyone to dance with, or to watch dancing alone with a song in my heart.

photo: Nicholas Burnham

Fonarow believes the indie-rock identity quest is structured to end with marriage. For her, Zone Two represents a period of reflective aestheticism that eases the passage from the adolescent breakout of the pit to the homebound responsibilities of capitalist adulthood, when you find you're not going out at all. For anyone who remains sentient, however, identity quest never ends, and music can always be part of it. It's just that in a good marriage your identity is tied up with another person's. My wife attended eight of the 32 shows all told, quite a few for a 61-year-old nonprofessional. Both of us wanted and needed it.

But that final week I was on my lonesome till June 30 yoked two very alt alt-country bards in their forties: Robbie Fulks, a honky-tonk postmodernist proud to entertain "the world capital of secularism and rationality, all right," and the now Cleveland-based Amy Rigby, one of the best in the world at 47, playing South Street Seaport for free in intermittent rain to 150 people. Maybe I would have liked the Futureheads more if I hadn't skipped "Dancing With Joey Ramone" to see them. Carola stayed downtown. She tells me that the woman who kept feeding her friends in front of us vaulted onstage to sing backup on "All I Want." Her name was Sarah and it was a special birthday. Cheered Rigby: "40 years old and she can still storm a barricade."

Carola got home after I did. She was elated.

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