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Concert Reviews:
Plant, Krauss Raise Some "Sand" at Fox Theatre

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2008

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DETROIT -- If he so desired, Robert Plant could be out scooping up millions of dollars as part of a Led Zeppelin tour right now. He's on the road, all right -- but with Alison Krauss, his collaborator on last year's Grammy Award-winning "Raising Sand" album.

And anyone witnessing the duo's performance Tuesday night (June 17) at the Fox Theatre would be hard-pressed to second-guess his decision.

In the eight months since "Raising Sand's" release, the unlikely pairing has become a bona fide music Event that's superseded Plant and Krauss' age (23 years) and genre (rock and blues vs. country and bluegrass) differences. The fact is you couldn't find two more adventurous and open-minded musicians more suited to diving into the deep end like they have, and under the careful watch of producer T-Bone Burnett, architect of the masterful roots soundtracks for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Cold Mountain," "Raising Sand" has been a fresh and revelatory exercise.

The revelation was even greater in concert, as Plant, Krauss, Burnett and an ace band Plant introduced as "the amazing Raising Sand Revue" -- which included Buddy Miller and Stuart Duncan, each of whom played anything that had strings on it -- bolstered the "Raising Sand" repertoire with a variety of their own and outside material. Led Zep is still a mighty lure amidst all this, of course, and there were moments of arena-rock whooping from the near-sellout crowd at the Fox as the troupe rolled through a stomping rendition of "Black Dog," a playful take on "Black Country Woman" spiced by Krauss' fiddle and Duncan's banjo, and a faithful recreation of "The Battle of Evermore," with Krauss delivering the late Sandy Denny's vocal parts.

Denny's spirit cropped up again in an easy grooving version of Plant's solo hit "In the Mood," with Krauss breaking into a bit of her "Maddy's Grove" in the middle of the song.

Plant and Krauss also reached into the songbooks of Ray Charles ("Leave My Woman Alone"), Tom Waits ("Don't Knock") and George Jones "One Woman Man," while Krauss -- who at times belted like, well, a vintage Robert Plant -- charged through Mac Wiseman's "It's So Long and Goodbye to You" and Plant led a tribute to the late Bo Diddley on "Who Do You Love?" Burnett was able to remind the crowd that his producing credits sometimes eclipse his own performing chops with performances of "Bon Temps Roule" and "Shut It Tight," and a rendition of the traditional "Down to the River to Pray," which Krauss sang on the "O Brother..." soundtrack, was an a capella gem with Plant, Miller and Duncan providing background harmonies.

All of that was on top of the "Raising Sand" material, of course -- 11 songs from the album, with its bookends, "Rich Woman" and "Your Long Journey," opening and closing the show and sublime takes of "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us," "Fortune Teller," "Please Read the Letter" and "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" bringing the concert to their own particular high points.

It was the kind of show that left eyebrows raised and jaws dropped throughout the night, a special experience that comes from genuine daring and creative invention. In other words, it wasn't hard to see why Plant would consider that more compelling than singing "Stairway to Heaven" on the stadium circuit.

Plant and Krauss also demonstrated good taste in their opening act -- unknown Sharon Little, a Philadelphia singer-songwriter who told the Fox crowd she was working as a waitress four months ago before being tapped by the duo on the strength of her new album, "Perfect Time For a Breakdown." Though dressed in a frilly pink-and-black party dress and top hat, Little demonstrated a strong, full-bodied voice and a half-hour set of songs that synthesized rock, folk and R&B, delivered with plenty of energy and little of the caution you might expect from such an outsized support gig. Little won some friends on Tuesday night, and they'll surely come out the next time she's in town.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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