Review: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
14 years after their first tour, unlikely duo returns to DC area to make beautiful music
Robert Plant moved away from the spectacle that was Led Zeppelin years ago, using his solo career to dabble rockabilly and Americana as much as rock and roll. But the classic rock icon found his greatest post-Zeppelin success in an unlikely collaborator: bluegrass legend Alison Krauss.
Plant and Krauss released “Raising Sand,” reinterpreting and reshaping classic, obscure, and contemporary covers, in 2008. Fourteen years after their first collaboration won multiple Grammy Awards, they’re back and touring behind an equally strong follow up — “Raise the Roof.”
Earlier this month, I had the chance to see and photograph Plant and Krauss on a pleasant evening at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md. No surprise, they were backed by a top notch set of musicians who more than earned their keep: Krauss’ brother Viktor (keyboards and guitar), Dennis Crouch (stand-up bass), Jay Bellerose (drums), Stuart Duncan (mandolin, guitar and fiddle) and JD McPherson (electric guitar).
McPherson, in many respects the MVP of the night, opened the show with his band. The Oklahoma native performed an eight-track, 30-minute set featuring four songs from his new album “Let the Good Times Roll” as well as a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” Like the covers he would be part of during the main act, his reimagining of Pop’s punk classic somehow worked.
Sixteen of the 19 songs Plant and Krauss played came from the duo’s two albums, and the set list did not vary much on the first leg of the tour, which will spend all of July in Europe before returning to the U.S. for a series of dates in August and September.
Trading lead and harmony roles from song to song, the 73-year-old Plant was the more lively performer of the two, gesturing and interacting with the band and the audience. He was particularly strong on “Rich Woman,” the first track from “Raising Sand” that led off the show, and “Quattro (World Drifts In),” the Calexico cover that followed, as well as the three Zeppelin covers the group played.
When Krauss took over lead vocals — especially on Allen Toussaint’s “Trouble with My Lover” and Bert Jansch’s “It Don’t Bother Me” — she blew the house away. She only occasionally played her trademark fiddle, elevating songs like the Plant-Jimmy Page composition “Please Read the Letter” — a definite highlight from the show.
The Zeppelin songs earned the biggest applause of the night, as Plant turned “Rock and Roll” into a swing tune that had as much in common with Asleep at the Wheel as it did the British classic rockers. Krauss handled the high parts during “The Battle of Evermore,” while Plant led the audience through the English folktale.
The penultimate song of the main set, however, was its most powerful. With a long fiddle introduction, Plant, Krauss and the band raised the amphitheater’s roof with “When the Levee Breaks.” Here is a clip of the song from their appearance at Glastonbury last week:
Just as we did more than a decade ago, one hopes it won’t be another 14 years before Plant and Krauss record together again. I wouldn’t put it past Plant, who will be in his late 80s by then, but these two are too potent to not continue playing together. I’m just glad I had the chance to see them live this time.