On a beautiful warm evening overlooking San Diego Bay, the once unlikely duo of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant delivered a satisfying set to an engaged audience.
There was more interaction between the duo compared to their first tour, signaling greater comfort from these two singers sharing a stage.
The mix of their voices is incredible. Plant’s lower bedrock for its upper registers is a compelling combination.
The second song of the night “Quattro” featured a mandolin opening and brought many fans back to Plant’s former band’s bucolic third album. Calexico’s cover was intriguing.
Indeed, many thought that the songs of Led Zeppelin III would be dosed, but it was not.
Most of the sound gyrations came from guitarist MJ McPherson. His angular slabs of sound were often sent through an echo circuit, adding a haunting effect. Indeed, he was awarded the opening slot. Beware of McPherson and his group. Plant has seen incredible guitar pyrotechnics across the stage (at least 516 performances over Led Zeppelin’s 12-year career), so he’d be a good judge for the musical slot to his left.
A burning violin sawed off the opening riff of wait, what was that lead? Ah yes, the second track from Zeppelin’s fourth album. Turning “Rock and Roll” into a bluegrass stormer was a smart move.
“Please Read The Letter” featured Krauss and his fiddle, with Jay Bellerose’s brushed drums in counterpoint.
Over the course of the evening, the sound mixer was fine, more than a few times Plant’s vocals were also picked up or looped. It was effective the first few times.
Krauss has gently strayed from her bluegrass roots while touring with Plant, but she brings a clear, icy vocal to layered and sometimes deliberately thick band textures. Plant has clearly strayed from his genre defining posture as the lead singer of Golden God.
Plant, Krauss, and their band of aces explored that common ground between the two singers, especially exemplified by Ray Charles’ chestnut “Leave My Woman Alone.” Likewise, “Gone Gone Gone” (the Everly Brothers hit) rolled through the hills of Tennessee with a nice rockabilly tempo.
The ethereal mandolin opening to “The Battle of Evermore” gave original fans a shiver of recognition. Also from Zeppelin’s fourth album, the song rarely saw live performance after its initial release. The studio was the only place for Plant’s duet with Sandy Denny (the only female voice heard on a Zeppelin recording), and Zeppelin never brought a fifth musician on stage.
But now accompanied by Krauss, Plant is able to stretch the song on stage to enormous emotional effect. It was the most direct version of the four Zeppelin songs tested that night. Followed by “When the Levee Breaks” (also from Zeppelin’s fourth album), the song was brought back to its southern goth vibe, as envisioned by its original performers Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. At Rady Shell, the double violins created a perfectly audacious take on the buzzing strings of the Zeppelin version. Bassist Dennis Crouch, string player Stuart Duncan and Viktor Krauss on keyboards and guitar looked down on the evening to great effect.
The encore featured a guitar triple attack of “Can’t Let Go” by Lucinda Williams. It was an exciting end to a great evening.
(photos by Brad Auerbach)