Photos by Soren McCarty.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Red Rocks Amphitheater Saturday, June 21, 2008 Better Than: Being at Stonehenge for summer solstice.
As the electrifying frontman of Led Zeppelin nearly three decades ago, Robert Plant was the epitome of the über-rockstar. But Saturday’s show with bluegrass queen Alison Krauss proved that the singer could be equally as compelling in a completely different musical environment. Page and Krauss opened the set with “Rich Woman” without a lot of theatrics. Then again, though, there didn’t really need to be. The pair simply stood behind the mikes and sang brilliantly, while drummer Jay Bellarose laid down the tom-tom beat and T Bone Burnett, dressed like a country preacher, and Buddy Miller laid down the vibrato-drenched guitar parts.
In addition to playing nearly every song on Plant and Krauss’s exceptional album, Raising Sand, Plant and Krauss also delved into three Zeppelin tunes. Following Stuart Duncan’s banjo intro “Black Dog,” the band turned the once rocking tune into a slinky swaggering number that sounded more like Link Wray’s “Rumble” than the tune that originally appeared on Led Zeppelin IV. Zeppelin rarely worked “Black Country Woman” (from 1975’s Physical Graffiti) into its live sets, but it worked wonderfully in this context. “Battle of Evermore” also sounded brilliant, with Bellarose thundering away on the toms near the end of the song.
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About halfway through the two-hour set, Plant introduced Burnett as “the captain of this ship.” Burnett, who produced Raising Sand and assembled this great band, took the spotlight to perform his own tunes “Primitives” and “Bon Temps Rouler,” which he dedicated to New Orleans. Burnett also mentioned that this was his first time visiting Red Rocks.
Plant left the stage a few times throughout the night, letting Krauss handle the vocal duties, including the Sam Phillips-penned “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us,” which felt like a Tom Waits tune at times. Later in the set, Krauss let her voice soar on a haunting version of Waits’ “Trampled Rose,” and showed off her deft bluegrass fiddle chops on songs like “Green Pastures,” where she was backed only by Duncan on guitar and Dennis Crouch on bass.
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While Plant seemed entirely content sharing the spotlight with Krauss, even stepping to the rear of the stage to sing back-up vocals at times, he did switch into rock star mode on the reworking of Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin’.” While his vocals were fairly subdued on the Raising Sand version, Plant completely belted on the Red Rocks stage. Krauss's vocals were equally impressive. She was particularly impressive on "Down to the River to Pray” (featured on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack), which she sang a cappella, with Plant, Duncan and Miller providing some stellar vocal harmonies.
There were plenty of moments in which Plant and Krauss got to shine individually throughout the set, but when the two sang together it was simply magic, especially on cuts like “Rich Woman,” “Killing the Blues” and the Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On).”
Personal Bias: Having seen Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Fiddler’s Green more than a decade ago, I’d have to say this show was just as good. Random Detail: Plant said that it was summer solstice and something about how it was the ideal time to be at Stonehenge. Then he mentioned Ronnie James Dio, and I’m still trying to figure out the connection between Dio and Stonehenge. By the Way: While walking down the down the ramp to the parking lot, I overheard a guy saying that Plant was a scholar of Celtic history.