Robert Plant / Alison Krauss Deliver at Rady Shell

On a lovely warm evening overlooking San Diego Bay, the once-seemingly-unlikely duo of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant delivered a satisfying set to an engaged audience.

There was more interaction between the duo as compared to their first tour, signaling a greater comfort of these two singers sharing a stage. 

The blend of their voices remains incredible. Plant’s lower bedrock for her higher registers is a compelling combination. 

The second song of the evening “Quattro” featured a mandolin opening, and took many fans back to Plant’s former band’s bucolic third album. The Calexico cover was intriguing.

Indeed, many of thought that songs from Led Zeppelin III would be assayed, but that was not the case.

Most of the sonic gyrations were from guitarist MJ McPherson. His angular slabs of sound were often sent through an echo circuit, adding a haunting effect. Indeed, he was given the opening slot. Watch out for McPherson and his band. Plant has looked across the stage at amazing guitar pyrotechnics (at least 516 performances during Led Zeppelin’s 12 year career), so he’d be a good judge for the musical slot to his left. 

A scorching fiddle sawed the opening riff of wait, what was that track? Ah yup, the second track of Zeppelin’s fourth album. Turning “Rock and Roll” into a bluegrass stormer was a clever move. 

“Please Read The Letter” featured Krauss and her fiddle, with Jay Bellerose’s brushed drumming in counterpoint. 

During the evening the sound mixer was well-cued, more than a few times Plant’s vocals were also echoed or looped. It was effective the first few times. 

Krauss has moved smoothly from her bluegrass roots when touring with Plant, but she brings an icy clear voice to the layered and occasionally purposely thick band textures. Plant has clearly moved away from his genre defining Golden God lead singer posturing.   

Plant, Krauss and their ace band explored that middle common ground between the two singers, especially evidenced by the Ray Charles chestnut “Leave My Woman Alone.”  Likewise, “Gone Gone Gone” (the Everly Brothers hit) chugged along through the Tennessee hills with a fine rockabilly tempo. 

The ethereal mandolin opening of “The Battle of Evermore” set original fans a shiver of recognition. Also from Zeppelin’s fourth album, the song rarely saw a stage performance after its initial release. The studio was the only place for Plant’s duet with Sandy Denny (the only female voice heard on a Zeppelin recording), and Zeppelin never brought a fifth musician to the stage. 

But now accompanied by Krauss, Plant is able to stretch the song onstage to huge emotional effect. It was the most straight ahead version of the four Zeppelin songs assayed that evening. Followed by “When the Levee Breaks” (also from the fourth Zeppelin album) the song was pulled back to its southern gothic mood as envisioned by its original performers Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. At the Rady Shell the dual fiddles created a perfectly edgy interpretation of the droning strings of the Zeppelin version. Bassist Dennis Crouch, string player Stuart Duncan and Viktor Krauss on keys and guitar leaned into the evening to great effect.

The encore featured a triple guitar attack of Lucinda Williams’ “Can’t Let Go.” It was a rousing finish to a superb evening.

(photos by Brad Auerbach)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.