Robert Plant & Alison Krauss at Forest Hill Stadium
June 4, 2022
As a crescent moon rose over the neo-Tudor facades of nearby apartment buildings, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss entertained a less-than-sold-out crowd to an evening of music that drew liberally from several catalogs: folk music, 1950s R&B, blues and even Led Zeppelin. Sometimes, those categories intersected.
The duo, he now an elder statesman at age 73, she impossibly unchanged at age 51, are touring in support of their most recent release, Raise the Roof. The album, released in December 2021, was a long-overdue follow-up to their first collaboration, the 2007 album Rasising Sand. Last evening’s set drew liberally from both records.
With dusk falling into night, the duo and the band emerged and launched into a New Orleans R&B classic — Lil Millet‘s “Rich Woman“– quickly followed by the Calexico cover, “Quattro (World Drifts In).” That initial alternation set the tone for what followed. Moving seamlessly between songs drawn from the two albums, the singers explored byways of American roots music that don’t make their home in East Coast urban settings.
Plant is in fine voice for a man in his eighth decade. And if the top end has come off his yowls, he’s still able to hold them for longer than anyone has a right to expect. Alison Krauss, who seemingly sprung fully-formed into her musicality at birth, or at least her high school graduation, has never sounded better. Whatever the song calls for, she delivers: soft harmonies, plaintive verses, even growls. I especially loved her singing Little Milton‘s “Let Loss Be Your Lesson.” Her violin playing, sweet and soulful, was an added bonus.
There was a little red meat provided for the Zeppelin fans in attendance, though it was seasoned differently than they were accustomed to. That was apparent when the band moved from covering Phil and Don Everley into one of Zeppelin’s more famous songs, “Rock and Roll.” In a way it completely fit the mood of the moment, given that the original begins with a shameless rip-off (okay, an homage to) the opening of Little Richard‘s “Keep a Knockin’.”
Here, the drums were more subdued and the guitar solo was shared between J.D. McPherson, who also fronted the opening act, and Stuart Duncan on violin. On both records producer T. Bone Burnett assembled some of the finest musicians working today and some of them were on stage, including the rhythm section of Jay Bellerose on drums and Dennis Crouch on upright bass. I love the unmistakably woody sound of those big boxes.
McPherson got the nod to play guitar god and the contrast with the opening set could not have been starker. Warming up, his quintet played mostly straight-ahead rockabilly-inspired songs and his playing fit the bill. Behind the headliners a whole new soundbox emerged, among which the solos were, for me at least, the least interesting parts. Punctuating and underscoring the vocalists, he wrested slurs, growls, burrs and choked-but effective fills from his instrument.
The band was rounded out by Viktor Krauss, who as Alsion noted, “plays everything,” and Stuart Duncan, playing mandolin, violin and guitar. I’d admired Duncan’s playing on The Goat Rodeo Sessions, and here he was my favorite, eschewing texture for tastefully rendered melodies.
For the die-hard classic rock crowd, there was a “Battle of Evermore” that made one miss Sandy Denny a bit less. And “When the Levee Breaks,” a Mempis Minnie song originally recorded in 1929 and covered by Zeppelin, was nicely interpolated with “Friends.”
The band came back for two encores, and if you weren’t satisfied it was not the fault of anyone on stage. Plant and Krauss clearly love singing together and just as clearly respect what the other has done and can do. That they assembled a perfect group of accompanists to play with them is the icing on this musical sundae.
With apologies for the poor cinematography, here’s a bit of the “Battle of Evermore.” I’ll never be a Steadicam operator.