Concert review: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

Nearly 48 hours after Robert Plant, Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett took the stage at the Asheville Civic Center (Saturday, June 14), I’m still trying to decide exactly what I thought of the show.

Admittedly, I was a tiny bit star-struck, though not nearly so much as the large portion of the audience who gave Plant a standing ovation every time he cleared his throat. But the British rock star seemed genuinely touched by the warm reception and while at several points during the evening a specter of his youthful Led Zeppelin-fronting days emerged, he was markedly personable, humorous, animated and un rock star-ish. (And, considering he’ll be 60 this August, Plant had some pretty supple dance moves.)

Early on the band launched into Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” made all the more spooky with banjo and violin. The audience eagerly joined in on the “Uh-huh” chorus which further diminished the song’s stadium rock cache, but considering it was a crowd ranging in age from 8 to 80, that seemed appropriate.

A strangely subdued Krauss — or should I say, a waif-thin, glamorously dressed and coifed woman with Krauss’ voice — gave a Moulin Rouge-inspired vocal on “I hear music up above” (I can’t guarantee that title), complete with a very un bluegrass (think searing Gypsy) violin solo. 

Often, during Krauss’ numbers, Plant was either in the background or off-stage altogether. She, on the other hand, provided back up to nearly all of his pieces. It was obvious that Plant was the main attraction, though no one was complaining. When he did step up to the mic, it was for a fully-committed performance, such as his rocking revamp of “Fortune Teller.”

On that number, Krauss stretched her own boundaries with near-primal background vocals, which led me to think that each of these songs were what these seasoned musicians would pull out during their free time and that, in fact, their Raising Sand album is somewhat of an extended kitchen jam. But even as the audience was asked to go along with this flight of fancy, every song was so well mapped out, so polished and newly rendered, that it was hard to begrudge the musicians their departure form their bread-and-butter material. In fact, it was inspiring. Case in point: Plant and Krauss dueted on Plant’s “I’m In The Mood (For A Melody)” that, despite being 25 years old, came off as wholly modern. The same is true for the T Bone-reconstructed “Black Country Woman,” again with banjo.

The reason it’s possible for this group to re-envision Zeppelin tunes accompanied by mandolin and drums played with mallets is because the backing band is just so talented and tasteful. Multi-instrumentalists Buddy Miller and Stuart Duncan filled out the all-star cast, with Burnett playing hollow-body guitar. Burnett offered up two spooky, swampy, voodoo-infused songs of his New Orleans-inspired new album, Tooth Of Crime. He also told the audience that he spent summers in Asheville as a child with an aunt who lived at the Princess Anne Hotel. An interesting factoid.

Burnett’s songs were a high point of the evening for me, as was the Plant and Krauss duet on “Killing the Blues” from Raising Sand. That’s my take. Based on audience response, Plant’s energetic “Battle of Evermore” was the crescendo. Krauss maintained her poise despite dancers in the aisles, Plant wielding the mic stand and the dynamic efforts of the musicians, but her blistering backup vocals were an impressive display from the angelic vocalist.

Throughout the evening I was torn between thinking I was witnessing something of huge significance (the sort of tour people will talk about a decade from now) and thinking this all might be just a bit hokey. But in the end — more than two hours of non-stop music later — I came away feeling completely entertained. And, 48 hours later, I still can’t settle on a single word or phrase to sum it all up. Neither can I get those songs out of my mind.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

 

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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