Sunday, April 20, 2008


My birthday present from my wife this year was surprise tickets to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss in Louisville at the Palace. I was a big fan of their collaboration, 'Raising Sand' [reviewed here], and didn't even know they were touring. I don't know why they chose to open the tour in Louisville, even adding a second night when the first sold out in 30 minutes, but I'm tickled that they did.

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant certainly gave the impression that they were going to play all of their remarkable album, ‘Raising Sand’, when they opened the show with the album's opener, "Rich Woman". They came pretty darn close, performing all but two of the album's 14 songs, interspersed with 10 or so other choices. The non-album songs were in a way the special meat of the concert, as the T Bone Burnett-led quintet of backing musicians aided Plant and Krauss in delivering studio-perfect takes on their recorded counterparts. That isn't a criticism, mind you. Hearing the songs I love off of the album, like "Killing the Blues" and "Please Read the Letter", was the highlight of the show for me.

The non-album adventures begin apace, with "Leave My Woman Alone" as the second song. Though co-written and originated by Ray Charles, I'm guessing they had the Everly Brothers' version in mind (I had to look it up. I thought it was a Dave Edmunds song). The crowd went craziest for the reworked Led Zeppelin tunes, particularly "Black Dog". A swing at "Black Country Woman" had muscle behind it, with Krauss keeping pace with rocker Plant to blow the audience backwards. It was only in "When the Levee Breaks" that these forays slipped into cacophony, and I would have traded it for "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson", a 'Sand' cut not performed. The truly ascendant moment came when they took on "Down to the River to Pray", which Krauss originally sang on the Burnett-produced 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' soundtrack. Krauss again took lead, with Plant forming a vocal trio with sidemen Buddy Miller and Stuart Duncan.

The performance was also beautifully staged, with Plant or Krauss stepping back with the band or off-stage during the other's solo turns. No egos to be found at all, really, as both stepped aside for T Bone Burnett, who Plant referred to as "the mastermind", to sing a couple of solo songs. I'm not familiar with his solo work, but his voice made me cruelly think "Now I know why he's famous as a producer.". As he sang his first song, though, I noticed he has the same rigid stage presence of Roy Orbison. Then I imagined Roy singing it, and if not for time and tragedy we'd have had a great Orbison song on our hands (no coincidence there, as Burnett produced tracks for Orbison's final two albums).

The opening act was Sharon Little, touring in support of her first record deal and her album coming out May 27th (or "dropping", as the kids say). She has a soulful, bluesy voice that belies her age, and her songs on the link are worth a listen. The best part may have been her genuine giddiness at being part of this tour so early in her career.

It had been over 10 years since I've been to the Louisville Palace. It's one of the few venues where the architecture is as interesting as the music. My wife and I ate across the street at Cunningham's, a venerable Louisville diner. If you like good food and fast service, well, don't eat at Cunningham's. If you want ok food and don't have time to wait at a better restaurant, then it'll do (though I doubt they'll be adopting "It'll do" as their slogan anytime soon).

Ok, what haven't a reviewed...the parking garage? Maybe next time.


t-dub said...

What -- no mention of "The Battle of Evermore"? It was the only Zeppelin tune they played that was faithful to the original recording. As such, it was AWESOME!

As for the opening act... I really coulda used more tambourine.

Matt Tauber said...

...not more cowbell?