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Plant/Krauss Roanoke, VA Review


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Review: Standing ovations abound for Plant, Krauss

By Tad Dickens | The Roanoke Times

plant_krauss.jpg Jared Soares | The Roanoke Times

Alison Krauss, T Bone Burnett and Robert Plant perform Monday night at Roanoke Civic Center.

Classic rock tunes, including some Led Zeppelin hits, blared from a radio station's promo van outside Roanoke Civic Center on Monday night.

Inside, Led Zeppelin's former frontman, Robert Plant, was taking some of his old songs and a deep catalog of American roots gems to new places with his new cohorts, Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett.

The results blew away an audience of 4,065. There might not have been many people inside — they only half-filled the civic center — but they were wildly receptive to new takes on classics, giving the group three long, standing ovations and remaining on their feet through the four-song encore.

But the best news in the two-hour show was in Plant's goodbye before the encore: "Come back and see us again soon."

Those words made it clear — this is now officially a band. You could even call it the first roots music supergroup, or at least the one with the highest profile.

Sure, bluegrass and Americana music are filled with hot players teaming up in different combos. But on stage Monday night you had in Plant the greatest rock singer of his generation, in Krauss the greatest bluegrass and country singer of hers, and in Burnett the producer of, among other acclaimed records, the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack.

On the back line, you had more of the best in the music business — multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Buddy Miller and Stuart Duncan, bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose.

This wasn't an ego fest, though. This was a seven-person group devoted to the art of interpretation. Aside from the reworked Zeppelin hits (and one from the Plant and Jimmy Page record, "Walking Into Clarksdale"), the crowd heard songs written by Sam Phillips, Phil and Don Everly, Tom Waits, and Kathleen Brennan, and Townes Van Zandt.

Most of them had two distinctive stamps — Burnett's often spooky arrangements, and the vocals of Krauss and Plant, who also harmonized beautifully.

The only question remaining after the show was: If this is in fact a real band, will it continue to be a band of interpreters, or will it produce a record of originals? Either result will likely be satisfying.

In a night of highlight after highlight, two performances stood out — both from the pair's platinum-selling, Grammy-winning CD, "Raising Sand."

Plant hit his apex with the Van Zandt song, "Nothin'." To introduce it, he told the audience about how Burnett turned him on to the brilliant but tortured songwriter, whose music often reflected the darker side of his life.

"In truth, it was a rough ride," for Van Zandt, Plant said. "This is one of the mirrors he looked into."

The song brought out the wailing, raga-infused Plant of Led Zeppelin legend, of "Whole Lotta Love" menace. But this was a humbled rock god.

"Being born is going blind/And bowin' down a thousand times/To echoes strung on pure temptation."

Inserted in the middle, planned probably sometime shortly before the show, was the Bo Diddley song, "Who Do You Love?" Plant blew blues harp to honor Diddley, one of his idols, who died earlier that day.

The Waits and Brennan song, "Trampled Rose," inspired Krauss's best work of the night.

Finishing the verse, "I know that rose/Like I know my name/The one I gave my love/It was the same/Now I find it in the street/A trampled rose," she hit extended, crystal-clear high notes that elicited gasps from audience members.

The stage lighting hit her pale skin in such a way during those notes that she looked like an otherworldly figure.

Together, Plant and Krauss excited the crowd with their harmonies on the Zeppelin songs "The Battle of Evermore" and "When the Levee Breaks," and Plant's "In the Mood."

Burnett, whom Plant credited as "the genius" behind his new collaboration, got a couple of tunes to himself. But sandwiched between Plant and Krauss songs, they didn't bring the same excitement.

Opening act Sharon Little sang neo-folk and Americana songs with a big, high voice reminiscent of Grace Potter. With original songs such as "Try" and "Follow That Sound," she was a good warm-up act.

But you can't steal a show from artists such as Plant and Krauss. We can only hope that Plant wasn't just fooling around when he hinted that the band would be back. This is an act that can become legendary.

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