Originally appeared on tennessean.com
By PETER COOPER
The between-song shouts of adoration, glee and inebriation halted for a moment as Robert Plant spoke Sunday night.
“This is the second night of a new career,” he said, with a grin that may have left a few in the Palace Theatre audience of 2,700 wondering if he was serious.
There he stood, onstage at one of America’s loveliest halls. He once fronted Led Zeppelin, the loudest and wildest band in the world, yet Sunday he performed with duet partner Alison Krauss and a group of music-makers that included producer and roots music visionary T-Bone Burnett and Nashville-based master players Buddy Miller, Dennis Crouch and Stuart Duncan.
The Plant/Krauss tour, which kicked off Saturday night and which is slated to end at the Sommet Center on July 19, is an unlikely and in fact unprecedented melding of musicians, sounds and styles. No act has ever had the commercial heft, musical depth and expansive vision that would enable a tour through major venues that includes authentic and powerful versions of songs from Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” to Doc Watson’s plaintive “Your Long Journey.”
Several years ago, Burnett was musical director for the Down From The Mountain tour that featured Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, blues man Chris Thomas King and many more. That was variety. This is… insane. Or it was, until the just-passed weekend. At this point, it seems closer to genius. Through these hands, minds and voices, rock, bluegrass, blues, country and soul (really, all of it is soul music) are all of a piece. It sounds ancient, and it’s something new under the sun.
“Who knows about the ‘Singing Fisherman?’ Plant asked, introducing an encore version of “One Woman Man,” a song first popularized by the singing fisherman in question, the late, great country star Johnny Horton. It has come to this: Robert Plant heads to the American South and spreads the word about Johnny Horton. Strange world, this one.
Even apart from the people on stage, Horton is far from the only Nashville connection in this show.
The tour is in support of Raising Sand, the album Plant and Krauss made in Nashville, with Burnette producing. Sunday night’s songs included: A ferocious and harrowing version of Nashvillian Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin’,” with instrumental sections that sounded close enough to Zeppelin to make Jimmy Page nervous, wherever he was; some Everly Brothers excursions, including the Grammy-winning collaboration “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” and the Mel Tillis-penned “Stick With Me Baby”; a heart-stopping take on Rowland Salley’s “Killing The Blues,” a song first popularized by Nashville’s John Prine; Krauss and Stuart Duncan performing “Green Pastures,” a song Emmylou Harris featured on her groundbreaking Roses in the Snow album.
The Louisville crowd was full of dignitaries (David Fricke from Rolling Stone among them) and full of Zeppelin fans. One ticket-holder said he had ticket stubs to prove he’d been to four Zeppelin shows, though he could only remember three of them. It’s hard for a 21-time Grammy winner to sneak up on anyone, but Krauss’ pitch-perfect singing induced some audible gasps.
In fact, Krauss has never sung like this before. It takes a particular sort of bravery to do what she’s doing here: Having reached great heights by developing a distinctive and much-loved way of singing, she has found a new way to sing. On the Zeppelin standard “Black Country Woman,” her full-throated, bluesy harmonies were something entirely new. And the romp through “One Woman Man” was something the meticulous Krauss has never approached before onstage: Good, sloppy fun.
Bass man Crouch, a member of the every-Monday Station Inn band The Time Jumpers, found a way to make the upright bass sound like a heavy rock instrument on some songs, while playing rhythmic, “slap bass” on up-tempo numbers and providing lovely, melodic note choices on ballads.
Miller played guitar and pedal steel, and there were several points in the show when Plant just stood and stared at what Miller was doing during solos.
Duncan, whose studio work includes some of the sweetest bluegrass fiddling to be heard, often took the Jimmy Page part in the rock songs, playing high, loud and sometimes distorted. Then he played ghostly banjo on “Black Dog,” mandolin on others, and guitar on still others.
Great instrumentalists are by nature adaptable, but lead singers are often less so. As it turns out, Robert Plant is a harmony singer of significant range and nuance. He did the high, not-long-for-lonesome Zeppelin stuff on occasion, but his note choices on duets with Krauss were the kinds of things that cannot be sung without considerable study and a willingness to subvert ego and star-turns in service of the greater good. It seems that under Burnett’s stewardship, Krauss has learned to howl and Plant has taken the less-is-more thing to heart. The rock legend seemed equally at home taking the strutting lead on “Black Country Woman” and working as part of a gospel quartet on “Down To The River To Pray.”
At night’s end, after the sad and pure ballad “Your Long Journey,” Plant seemed to feel that his business was unfinished.
“Come along for Lexington,” he said, referring to the other Kentucky show on this tour. “I’ll tell you more about the ‘Singing Fisherman.’”
Set list for the Sunday-night show in Louisville, Ky.:
“Leave My Woman Alone”
“Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”
“Through the Morning, Through the Night”
“Black Country Woman”
“Hey Hey What Can I Do”
” T Bone Burnett sings – “The Rat Age”
“T Bone Burnett sings “Bon Temps Rouler”
“Down To The River To Pray”
“Killing the Blues”
“Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson”
“When the Levee Breaks”
“The Battle of Evermore”
“Please Read The Letter”
“Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)”
Instrumental, featuring Krauss and Stuart Duncan
“Stick With Me Baby”
“One Woman Man”
“Your Long Journey”
Posted in sr2008 |