In the middle of her solo set Sunday night at the Continental Club, Patty Griffin said that she was nervous. If she hadn’t said it, people in the club would not have known. Her short set at the beginning of the second night of two shows billed as "Patty Griffin and Her Driver" was a reminder that despite her high-profile partner, she is a force in her own right — in the course of a handful of songs that included material off her upcoming album as well as "No Bad News," Griffin showed her range, turning from melancholy to uplifting and back again.
The two shows began as one, a benefit for Austin-based songwriter Michael Fracasso, who injured his hand a few months back in a car accident and couldn’t work. Griffin explained that she had called her boyfriend, who immediately got on board with the idea and suggested a second show after the first sold out in a few minutes a few weeks back. They decided the second show would benefit the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.
After "No Bad News" the band — bassist Glenn Fukunaga, drummer Donny Wynn, guitarist David Pulkingham and "driver" Robert Plant — joined her for another new one, "Ohio," which, with its slow, humming strum, felt like the soundtrack to a sunset. "This is the last date of our tour," Plant said, adding that his tour had been going on for 47 years. "I like this folk stuff."
Then, it was on to "In The Mood," the first older song from the Led Zeppelin front man in a night that would find him performing several of his most well-known hits. Plant and Griffin sang together, giving the song a warmer, folkier feel, broken only when Plant threw out a big "oh yeah" mid-way. On "Thank You" he clutched the mic with both hands; Griffin’s voice again lent a different dynamic; Pulkingham held it down on an electric guitar.
Plant said that Griffin’s "Cold As It Gets" was one of the first of her songs that caught his attention; the rendition crept darkly as if actually trekking across a frozen landscape.
Then, quickly, Plant threw a finger in the air, as if remembering something he had been reaching for — oh yeah, "What Is and What Should Never Be." Here, the scales tipped in favor of a decidedly more Zeppelin-y brand of rock ‘n’ roll, Plant letting loose a bit with his signature wail and Pulkingham carving through the song’s iconic guitar work with a playful and then grinding approach.
Plant sang alone on Tim Buckley’s "Song of the Siren," and Griffin joined again for "Going To California." He introduced the latter with a story about him and Bonzo flying to the U.S., where they "did some things." He shook his head and stared out across the room; again, the moment felt more rock than roots.
After the Band of Joy’s "Angel Dance," Plant began laughing about Hobbits, and Vikings. "I know, I was there with my double-bladed battle axe," he said, introducing "Ramble On" (one of a few songs, including "Thank You" and "Song of the Siren," they didn’t play the first night; Sunday’s set did not include "Tangerine," which the group played Saturday). The song, which inspired what was probably the biggest response of the night from the crowd, featured Griffin strumming the opening guitar lines, Plant rolling his eyes and laughing as he sang lines about Tolkien’s Mordor and Gollum, and a big folk breakdown.
"We could do this again somewhere else," Plant offered before an encore of "Black Dog." Slowed down from the blistering blues of the original, it wrapped the night in a celebratory moment, with Griffin dancing as they delivered the final lines.
More fun in 2013. Next year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest will be Nov. 8-10 at Auditorium Shores, festival organizers announced last week. In addition to three days of music and comedy performances, the fest will once again hold its Fun Fun Fun Nites aftershows.
Mean Eyed Cat under new ownership. Mean Eyed Cat owner Chris Marsh has sold the West Fifth Street bar to Matt Luckie, who co-owns the Rattle Inn, among other clubs. Marsh made the announcement last week on the Mean Eyed Cat’s Facebook page. He said Luckie and partners Max Moreland and Jed Thompson will close the bar over the holidays to make "structural and operational additions."