Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raise The Roof Tour; Rose Music Center at the Heights; Dayton, Ohio; May 3, 2023
Almost as incongruous as the coming together of Robert Plant, the now-74 year old former-lead singer of the prototype hard rock/metal band Led Zeppelin, and Alison Krauss, twenty years younger, with an award-winning career as a bluegrass and country music singer and fiddler, was the cold temperatures Wednesday night for the first concert of the summer season at outdoor venue, The Rose. Evidently, it was producer T Bone Burnett who brought together the unlikely duo back in 2007 to record Raising Sand, which went on the win the Grammy for the Album of the Year in ’09. The band toured most of the year following the album’s release, and although they attempted a sophomore follow-up the initial recordings were disappointing and they both returned to their previous solo careers, Krauss with her band Union Station and Plant joined up with Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller to form Band of Joy and pursue Americana and folk/rock roots music. Then after 14 years apart, the two singers reconvened with Burnett to record Raise the Roof, a decidedly more up-tempo album in late 2021, leading to this tour.
At 8:30, about as the sun was going down with a full moon in the eastern sky, Krauss and Plant took the stage, her long hair flowing over a long dark winter coat, and him wearing a jean jacket over a hoodie, probably the only person in the world who can actually pull off a man-bun. And on this tour, the duo are backed by a number of musicians who played on the album: drummer Jay Bellerose, Dennis Crouch on the upright bass, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan, and Alison’s brother who played guitars and some keyboards during the concert, Viktor Krauss. Guitarist JD McPherson filled out the band, taking on the noble task of filling in for players like Miller, David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Bill Frisell, and Marc Ribot, who all contributed to the album. They opened with the opening song of their first album, the slow brooding “Rich Woman,” with the throbbing rhythm and the duo singing the sweet, harmony lead vocals about how “she got the money, and I got the honey,” Plant moaning at the end about the need to “ah, stop your train,” a tone familiar to any Led Zep fan.
Duncan opened the Calexico cover “Quattro (World Drifts In)” playing a twangy nylon stringed guitar, and the two singers found another unique harmony to carry the lead, before Bellerose and Crouch kicked the seductive beat into a seamless groove. This is the song the Krauss said in an interview that convinced her they needed to sing together again, and you could feel the special chemistry between their two very different singing styles. Plant who took on most of the speaking duties on this night, often reminding the crowd how cold it was, greeted the audience with “Good evening, everybody. Welcome to Norway.”
The rhythm section launched into the witchy, crackling beat of “Fortune Teller,” which Plant sings lead on. Plant marked the snappy rhythm clapping the fast beats at the bridge, while Krauss sang the haunted “whoooos,” and McPherson played a strong guitar solo with a solid retro tone driving his licks home. Plant picked up maracas for the next song, “The Price of Love,” but it was another moody number, this time with Krauss singing lead, and him joining her to reproduce the Everly Bros. harmonies of the original.
After wondering aloud whatever happened to global-warming, Plant suggested that their concert was a “pre-coronation event,” and then announced that he actually is the same age of his homeland’s new king, Charles. He said, “my mom used to ask me, why can’t you be more like him?” And I said, “I am.” At which point Duncan launched into a lengthy violin solo that led into a very rockabilly version of the Zeppelin classic “Rock and Roll,” with Duncan delivering train whistle sounds on the violin, before JD McPherson delivered a rocking solo as close to a Jimmy Page solo as we would hear on this night, Krauss joining Plant on the familiar verses, but leaving the closing “been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time” to the man who sang it the first time around.
Next up was another song written by Plant and Page, but since it was for the duo’s one non-Zep studio album, Walking into Clarksdale. Page and Krauss had remade “Please Read the Letter” in their signature sound and won that year’s Grammy for Record of the Year for the single. They thrive in the slow, bluesy country groove that’s at the heart of so many of their songs, with Krauss playing the violin solos this time, and their haunting harmony vocals pleading the song’s case.
Then the band turned their attention to their newest release, six songs from “Raise the Roof,” starting off with the one original the two singers wrote with their producer Burnett, “High and Lonesome.” They worked steadily through “Last Kind Word Blues,” with Duncan supporting on acoustic dobro, and electric mandolin, both Duncan and Krauss playing violins that sounded just incredible together on “You Led Me to the Wrong.” Allen Toussaint’s “Trouble with My Lover” got a bit of the New Orleans back beat that suits it, with Krauss taking more of a lead on the vocal. Plant said that it was the whole Americana passion for music that brought him to working on music like this, but they discovered a couple by Scottish songwriter Bert Jansch while compiling music for the new album. “Go Your Way” had a bigger rhythm, with a smartly punctuated beat by Bellerose, giving McPherson a distinct Celtic vibe over which to deliver a solid guitar solo. “It Don’t Bother Me” has guitar notes ringing out like chimes over the sturdy marching beat, Krauss singing lead until Plant joins on the harmonies that build and grow toward the chorus and a strong crescendo at the end.
Returning to his role as MC, Plant announced that “We’re a distinguished gathering here tonight,” then as applause broke out, he added “not you. Us.” Plant, when he finally got to his singing partner, referred to himself as a mere hobbit, describing himself in terms of Tolkien, who’s obviously influenced some of his early lyrics, before described Krauss as the “Queen of Rivendell.” The duo then dug into an old Ray Charles song, “Leave My Woman Alone,” one classic cover not on either of their albums. The Duncan started playing the familiar opening licks of “The Battle of Evermore” on mandolin, a song filled with Tolkien-esque imagery, that Plant sang as a duet with Sandy Denny from the Fairport Convention, in his Zeppelin days. Here on this night, Krauss joined Plant on those signature wailing moans and sighs that have always accompanied his singing, pleading together repeatedly to “bring it back.”
Staying with songs from Led Zeppelin IV, they dove next into the bluesy vamp of “When the Levee Breaks,” originally written by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, with Krauss and Duncan both back on violins, leading into the hottest jam of the evening, in time building into a strong rhythm with an Arabic flavor, strong soloing from Duncan on violin and McPherson on guitar. Then they closed out the set proper with a good-time rock & roll classic, the Everly Brothers classic “Gone Gone Gone,” from the Raising Sand album, which revealed the secret sauce of the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant collaboration, that mysteriously their combined voices do echo the magic that filled the air when Don and Phil Everly sand together.
After just enough applause to give the musicians a chance to catch their breath, they returned for “Can’t Let Go,” another old school rock & roll song with that golden retro flavor, owing largely to the strong guitar tones of McPherson, Bellerose’s spunky backbeat, and the delightful harmony singing of Plant and Krauss, the odd couple that just sounds great singing together.
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