Plant and Krauss conjure up a new spirit
By David Menconi, News & Observer
July 14, 2008
Conventional wisdom on popular music nowadays is that it's all been done. The frontier is closed and everythings been invented, with nothing left to do but recycle, reuse and rehash.
But if you believe that, you werent at the RBC Center on Friday night listening to the indelible guitar riff from Led Zeppelins "Black Dog" being plunked on a banjo, the lyrics murmured like a prayer - topped off by a fiddle solo that somehow sounded like a screaming electric guitar.
The Robert Plant/Alison Krauss show was in town, and if this wasnt a new kind of music then I dont know what is. Its a spectacularly unlikely combination of sensibilities that ought to clash violently. He's the frontman for Led Zeppelin, legendary swingers of the hammer of the gods, while she's a quietly demure country/bluegrass singer of rare beauty.
Somehow, what should be an oil-and-water mixture comes out weirdly wonderful, thanks to some impressive roots-rock alchemy from producer T-Bone Burnett. In addition to producing last years Plant/Krauss album "Raising Sand" (Rounder Records), Burnett is bandleader for this tour. The touring ensemble's overall sound was reminiscent of Chris Isaak's tiki-torch noir, shot through with stark Old Testament country blues.
Add it all up, and it was a veritable playground for Plant and Krauss to stretch out in unexpected ways. Plant has never exactly been noted for restraint, while belting has never been Krauss strong suit. But danged if they both didn't go in those respective directions, with handsome dividends.
Krauss showed more sass than ever, embracing the inner rock goddess we (and she, probably) never knew she had. If nothing else, this tour should definitively establish Krauss as a singer for the ages. When she soared into a ghostly wail on "Fortune Teller, " hairs were standing on every neck in the building.
Plant, meanwhile, rocked the leather pants and radiated star quality. But he also showed surprising facility as a harmony singer, meshing his voice with hers in ways you wouldn't imagine possible. He sang beautiful harmonies on "Down to the River to Pray," giving it just the right touch.
"This is new, old, modified, " Plant said at one point. "Its a new spirit up here."
"Raising Sand" provided the backbone for the just-under-two-hour set, augmented with a handful of Led Zeppelin songs. The aforementioned "Black Dog" was one highlight, as was "Black Country Woman." And the surreal folk of "The Battle of Evermore" made it an obvious choice.
Less obvious was "In the Mood, " originally a 1983 solo hit for Plant. This version played up the original's gliding offbeats, which drummer Jay Bellerose turned into something like a Bo Diddley backbeat. To top it off, they made it into a medley with the old fiddle tune "Matty Groves." Somehow, it worked.
There were also plenty of obscure covers, including the gospel standard "You Dont Knock, " Ray Charles' "Leave My Woman Alone" and a couple I couldnt for the life of me identify. I cant wait to hear what they cook up for the next chapter.