When I was a kid, I valued spectacle. Sure, it would have been nice to be in the front row, but there was something ideal about being two hundred feet away at a rock show, drinking in the enormity and grandeur of it, connecting with fans while not being able to quite touch the object of our adoration, allowing stars to remain in the cocoon of stardom. As an adult, I prefer intimacy, content to be moved by music, where before I demanded to be blown away.
I got a little of each last night when Robert Plant and Allison Krauss brought their tour to town. In a gorgeous outdoor theater, on a night that strained the definition of perfection, with a pristine band led by J. Henry Burnett (T-Bone to his friends), the rock god and the bluegrass queen delivered something grand, spellbinding and intimate, as they reworked classic American roots music and a handful of Led Zeppelin tunes. The band, which featured fretboard wizards Buddy Miller and Stuart Duncan, bathed the stars in dreamy, tremolo-drenched atmosphere, evoking a history deep and wide, as two of popular music’s most distinctive voices danced on top, together and alone.
A little Allison Krauss can go a long way for me, as her keening voice can verge on cloying to my ears. But there’s no denying its crystalline beauty, and when she delivered an a cappella version of “Down to the River to Pray” (with vocal support from Miller and Duncan), time all but stopped. It was one of the most elegant things I’ve ever heard live.
Krauss, petite and demure, held her own on stage next to Plant, but he was – without doubt – the night’s most riveting presence. At age 60, he’s beginning to show his age, but not to act it. Much of his music has been explosive, but the current tour is based on restraint. Not a laconic restraint, but a tension-filled whisper that threatens to blow the whole thing open at any moment. When Plant slides to the microphone, picks up the stand, and leans in to it, there’s no doubt that he’s a rock star. Even his smallest movements convey electricity.
The night’s third song was a banjo-fueled duet on Zep’s “Black Dog.” When Plant sang “gonna make you burn, gonna make you,” he hesitated ever-so-slightly before the word “sting,” and his sideways glance at Krauss was an act of subtlety and audacity that few could pull off.
I could go on. Suffice it to say that this is a terrific show, sophisticated and sexy, smart and sassy. Highly recommended.