Alison Krauss / Robert Plant
Greek Theatre (June 23, 2008)
One of the most incongruous and most successful pairings in the last couple years was brought about by T-Bone Burnett. He was the catalyst for the unlikely album and consequent tour by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. At the balmy Greek Theatre, long blond tresses were flowing, the harmonies were marvelous and the musical arrangements were often spooky and ethereal.
T-Bone Burnett is the touring band’s musical lead, and he cranked out some angular guitar figures that kept newcomers somewhat puzzled. But for those more attuned to his musical stylings, the sounds were glorious. When coupled with the innovative work of guitarist Buddy Miller on the other side of the stage, the pair of vocalists standing between them were nicely framed musically as well. The silken vocals of Krauss melded with Plant’s famous vocals in a most intriguing way.
Some of the evening’s songs were essentially unchanged from the Krauss/Plant Raising Sand album, but many songs were excursions into new territory.
The proliferation of vintage Led Zeppelin T-shirts seen in the audience revealed a sturdy contingent of folks clamoring for hints of Plant’s past. They were rewarded with several reworked songs from the British quartet’s canon. “Black Dog” was slowed to an ominous crawl, barely recognized by most until the refrain. In place of Jimmy page’s guitar pyrotechnics, Krauss proffered a sinewy violin solo. “Battle of Evermore” (also from Zep’s fourth album) was especially effective toward the end of the evening. Missing from the setlist was my choice for a logical reworking of a Zep classic “Going to Califronia.”
The obvious jumping off point for Plant to join the tour (he apparently eschewed the offer of ten million dollars per member to mount a Zep reunion tour) was their third album, the pastoral second side of which still resonates down the years. But the spooky version of American blues that Plant, Krauss and Burnett assayed at the Greek was not such a far cry from some of the Zep sonic excursions. What was certainly unique were the various bluegrass and pure a capella gospel numbers, played with aplomb.
Burnett once referred to himself as Ogden Nashville. He was the unsung hero of the evening. Burnett did much to put the album, band and tour together. The album’s Grammy has his fingerprints all over it.
Opening the evening with far too short a set was Sharon Little. A few months ago she was waiting tables. Now she is opening the Plant/Krauss tour for fans lucky enough to arrive on time. Little’s voice is crisp, her band is solid and her songwriting is evocative. She cites influences as varied as Sly Stone, Billie Holiday, Etta James and Nina Simone. For her brief set, she pulled some tracks from her fine new album Perfect Time For A Breakdown. It is obvious what the headliners saw and heard in giving her the choice opening slot.