Robert Plant

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at WaMu

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Longtime readers know that both Lois and I are Alison Krauss fanatics (just look at the title of my post when we saw her at the Beacon Theater). I’m also a long-time big fan of Led Zeppelin, and therefore, by extension, a big fan of Robert Plant. When we heard that they were pairing to produce the Raising Sand album (and now tour), we were excited.

I already wrote a long post about the album and how I finally came to purchase tickets to the show. In that post, I mentioned that the seats were in the seventh row. It turns out that the row was labeled G, but it was the fourth row, since the left side didn’t start at A. 🙂

The seats were awesome. As usual, I’ll give more color to the venue and the crowd in general, after discussing the show itself, including covering the opening act.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss came out at 8:55pm. There was instant electricity in the crowd, and many people gave them a standing ovation as they walked out. They launched into a couple of numbers from the album, and again, I was amazingly underwhelmed. It was certainly interesting (OK, even enjoyable) to see them live, but my heart wasn’t skipping any beats (and in fact, my feet weren’t unconsciously tapping along either).

To be clear, there are no flaws in their performance. They are both fantastic singers, with fantastic stage presence, backed by a pretty amazing band (I’ll cover them individually in a bit). The problem is the material. It’s nice, nothing more. I consider it to be background music. It does nothing to grab or hold my attention, but it sounds pleasant while your mind freely wanders to other thoughts…

Here they all are on stage, just to give you a sense of setting, though they shifted around a bunch throughout the show:

Raising Sand

Then, on either the third or fourth song, one of the band members (Stuart Duncan) started playing solo banjo (yes, banjo), and within a few notes, the crowd recognized it to be the lead (and repeating theme!) from Black Dog, a very famous Led Zeppelin number. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of an iconic rock song being played on the banjo!

Robert then sang the song, in a slow, relaxed style, and it was really cool. Toward the end, it got a little much for me (sorry folks), as the original is so great, and this was more of an interesting play on it, that dragged on a bit for my taste. Here’s Robert singing (not necessarily during Black Dog):

Robert Plant Singing

Robert also had awesome stage presence throughout the show, often acting as a cheerleader for the rest of the band. One of the hallmarks of the Raising Sand sound is both Alison and Robert clapping to the rhythm when they aren’t singing. Here’s a shot of that:

Robert Plant Clapping

Throughout a long show, they did the majority of the new album. They also did a mini-set of Alison singing without Robert, and Alison singing with Robert (and the others) singing background (including Robert standing toward the back of the stage). Here’s a shot of Alison singing:

Alison Krauss Singing

They did a couple of other Led Zeppelin numbers, including a cool (and slowed down) version of Rock and Roll, on which Robert had a great rapport with the crowd.

Both Alison and Robert left the stage for a bit, giving T-Bone Burnett (the producer of the album and the tour) an opportunity to sing lead on two songs with the rest of the band. Those songs were good too (he has a good voice, and a great on-stage persona).

One of the better numbers (again, just my opinion!) was entirely a cappella. Alison started out alone (as she always does on this number), not only singing alone, but the only one on stage. She sang Down to the River to Pray. After a verse (or two), Robert Plant, Stuart Duncan and Buddy Miller slowly walked on stage (reverently), and all shared one microphone to sing backup vocals. This version was way closer to the version on Alison Krauss and Union Station, Live, than it is to the version on O Brother Where Art Thou (where Alison sings with a choir, including many female voices, in a much more up-temp version).

They performed the song flawlessly last night, and the three men all sing great, individually and collectively, and blended with Alison to perfection. Here’s a strange shot of them (due to the lighting), but it’s also kind of cool, because it shows Alison in an ethereal (or ephemeral?) light, with the others singing in the background:

Alison Krauss Down to the River

One of the problems (to me) is that they don’t really know what sound they want. Bluegrass? Check! Rock? Check! Blues? Check! Soul? Check! Cajun? Check! All of the above, simultaneously? Check! Oops, therein lies at least part of the problem.

They finished up the show with Gone Gone Gone. I enjoyed it live, but it’s more fun on the video. Let me cover the band first, then circle back to the encore. Before doing that, here is a shot of the three headliners (Alison, Robert and T-Bone), clearly beaming righting after they finished Gone Gone Gone, rightfully so. The crowd was in a frenzy!

Robert Plant Alison Krauss T-Bone Burnett Beaming

Left-to-right on the stage (not including Alison and Robert) were:

Buddy Miller playing electric guitars, peddle steel guitar, electric mandolins and autoharp. He also has a MySpace page. His fingers literally fly on the guitar. He is a truly great lead guitarist. He has an excellent voice as well. For the first 1/2 of the show, he may have had a problem with his amp, as he wasn’t all that easy to hear, but his fingers were astounding to watch, even then. Then they replaced his amp, and his sound came alive, and he was awesome.

Here’s a shot of Buddy (with Stuart Duncan in the background), followed by a shot of Buddy’s amplifier, being worked on during the show:

Buddy Miller Stuart DuncanBuddy Miller Amp Work

Stuart Duncan played fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, all brilliantly. He sings really well too. Alison Krauss called him “my favorite musician in the whole world”. Wow, quite a compliment. If you read the awards he’s won (linked to his name above), clearly, she wasn’t being sarcastic. Still, even though he is incredible (truly!), that’s quite a statement, especially given who she plays with regularly, Jerry Douglas, Dan Tymninski, Ron Block and Barry Bales.

If Alison Krauss is going to call you her favorite musician, she may as well sing a duet with you:

Stuart Duncan Alison Krauss

Here’s Stuart on the mandolin:

Stuart Duncan Mandolin

Dennis Crouch played the upright bass. He was solid the entire night, but never highlighted. Amazingly, he could be heard (but never too overpowering!) even during the louder Rock numbers. I thoroughly enjoyed his play. Here’s a shot of Dennis:

Dennis Crouch

Jay Bellerose played the drums. I’m quite sure that most of the people in the audience considered Jay’s performance to be awesome. It was certainly impossible to ignore. Jay drums in a reasonably frenetic style. To me, there was nothing wrong with his drumming (meaning, he keeps a good beat, etc.), but he was a little over the top, in particular, in trying to carry the Rock parts. Nothing wrong, just not up to par with some of the drummers we’ve seen recently. Here’s Jay:

Jay Bellerose

T-Bone Burnett played rhythm guitar (and took a rare lead too). He’s certainly fine on the guitar, but I didn’t notice anything special. He sings well, and as mentioned before, has a very nice stage presence. Definitely seems to be enjoying himself on stage, in an infectious way. Robert goes out of his way to credit T-Bone with making this entire project happen. Kudos to him for that! Here he is during his two-song set:

T-Bone Burnett

Back to the encore…

When they left the stage, the entire audience was standing and making a giant ruckus. They were off stage for longer than most bands nowadays, but there was never a doubt that they were coming back! The house lights never came on, and the energy level in the crowd was awesome.

When they came out, it was without Alison. Robert said some beautiful words praising Bo Diddley in noting his passing, and they played a wonderful rendition of Who Do You Love. Alison then joined them and they did at least two more numbers (possibly three), making it a very long and excellent encore.

The show was nearly two hours, including the encore.

My bottom line is that I am very glad we went and I loved the experience. The show itself was choppy for my taste, but at least the worst parts were pleasant. The great parts were excellent, though even those weren’t quite like some of the shows I’ve written about in the past year.

Opening for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss was Sharon Little. She was backed by a five-piece band, including Scot Sax on guitar, who co-writes the songs with Sharon.

Sharon has a very good and powerful voice and the band members are quality musicians. That said, the material didn’t do it for me. Also not unpleasant, even for a second. The sound was repetitious and Sharon over-emoted (to my tastes) quite a number of times, trying to force a feeling down my throat. Whenever she did that (or attempted to switch singing styles into something more bluesy or soulful), her voice was not as clean or nice as it was when she just sang straight up.

They were on stage for exactly 30 minutes, followed by a 23 minute break before Robert and Alison came out.

If you read my previous post (linked above) about the difficulty I had in getting good tickets, then you might be as surprised as I was that the section we were sitting in (which were awesome seats), was relatively empty. The three rows in front of us only had six people (out of 24-28 possible seats) for the opening act, and even during the main show, there were at least 15 empty eats. Only four people were in the front row.

No one sat in front of us during Sharon’s set. But, just as the main event began, a couple sat in front of us. The man was a giant, with a bushy beard and wild curly hair (very much a Mountain Man type). The woman was short. She sat in front of me, and he sat in front of Lois. It was a like a giant eclipse of the sun for Lois…

I begged her to switch seats with me, and she refused. After two songs, I insisted, and forced her to switch. It made all of the difference in the world, as Lois got to see and enjoy the show. That said, the couple were annoying and distracting as hell, but then that’s often par for the course at these type of events.

In other crowd news, a number of people (including two of the people in the front row of our section) gave a standing ovation after every single song. It’s nice to be fans, and I’m sure they truly feel it, but come on, it’s a tad much.

Most of the crowd stood for the entire long encore. Since my view wasn’t blocked, I sat down when they returned to the stage. Lois stood, or she wouldn’t have been able to see. A number of people (including the annoying super fans who sat in front of us) left before seeing even a minute of the encore. It was definitely a long show, so I can understand wanting to beat the crowd (or get home to relieve a baby sitter), but they missed a very nice encore indeed.

WaMu is a very nice theater. The maximum capacity is 5600 people (I would have guessed 2500 seats, so I was way off!). The last (and only) time that Lois and I were there was 23 years ago, when we took our godson (then three years old) to see a Muppets On Tour show. He just graduated medical school. My how time flies… 😉

Finally, we drove in to the city yesterday morning (and back to the house this morning). In between, I had lunch with one of my all-time best friends (we met on our first jobs after graduating college) and worked together at our third job as well, for many years. I haven’t gotten to spend much time with him over the past few years, but my feelings for him have never lessened, he’s just an awesome person in every respect.

So, we had a terrific sushi lunch (my first in a while, which was also a good thing to rectify), and we have promised each other that we won’t let this kind of time elapse between future get together’s. Our third job was at First Boston, but he is not one of the people who attends our semi-regular Boys Night Out dinners. We’re going to rectify that too, and ensure that he joins us on the next one. 🙂

Random Madness

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I’ve written a number of times regarding my frustration at the apparent randomness of many computer programs/processes. In some cases, it’s simply not explainable (from the user’s perspective). In some cases, it almost feels rigged, but then something else happens, which even casts doubt on that theory…

Regular readers already know that we love Bluegrass and Country music. They also know that Alison Krauss is one of my favorites (along with Union Station). When her new album with Robert Plant came out (Raising Sand), I immediately bought a copy (downloaded from Amazon MP3). I listened to it once, thought it was pleasant, but I liked her stuff with Union Station more.

We recently started watching a drop of CMT and GAC (country music television stations) and have seen the video of Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) a number of times. It’s fun. I then listened to the album again, and I’m still not nuts about it, but it’s not bad either.

We then saw that they were going to be appearing together at the WAMU Theater at Madison Square Garden (MSG). We’re on a number of early access lists. For most (perhaps all) MSG/Beacon Theater/Radio City Music Hall events, we get early access through American Express. Typically tickets are available as much as a week before they are available to the general public.

In the case of Alison Krauss, Lois is also subscribed to her newsletter, and we get a password for early access directly related to the Alison Krauss fan club. So, two separate shots to get good tickets.

I was on the site within a minute of tickets officially being available. There simply weren’t any great seats left. We could have sat in the second to last row. It certainly didn’t feel special. 🙁

We decided to pass. We know that we would definitely enjoy seeing them, but it simply isn’t that big of a deal, and we decided to ignore it.

A few days ago, Lois gets another email from the Alison Krauss site, informing her that because tickets sold out in a matter of minutes (no, really?), they were adding a second night. Those too would be available using the password, starting at 10am yesterday.

I was on the site at 10:01 (yes, I’m slow, I know!). No tickets anywhere near the stage. Yuck. I tried a few more times, and nothing good was available. I decided to simply put this concert out of my mind.

Then yesterday afternoon (long after my failed attempt) I received a separate notice from the MSG/Amex side of the equation, announcing the second date, and the early access for Amex holders would start today at 10am. I have to admit that I chuckled to myself. After all, the super connected Alison Krauss fan club had access to these tickets a full day in advance, and nothing good was left.

Still, this morning, at roughly 10:03 (I was in a meeting, and I missed the exact 10am deadline), I logged on to Ticketmaster using the special Amex link, and searched for tickets. While I was able to get two seats that were better than the day before (which was quite surprising), they still weren’t good. I hit the “search again” link, though I can’t really explain why I bothered…

Hola! This second search produced wildly better seats. Seven rows from the stage, on the left, but not too far left. I grabbed them, so we’re going to the June 11th show.

That’s cool, no doubt, but, it also annoyed the daylights out of me. In all cases I clicked on best available. In this case, I can likely guess the scenario, so it’s not really accurate to call it computer randomness (meaning, the program is not to blame, but life’s randomness is).

I think that when I searched the first time, someone else started a search before me. They were assigned the good tickets, but were given 2:15 to complete their transaction. For whatever reason, they didn’t complete the transaction in time. I then got lucky in that I searched again, at exactly the right moment in time, and was able to get those tickets.

I’m happy at the end result, but why weren’t those tickets available the day before? On that day, I tried at least five separate times, in some cases waiting 30 minutes between searches. At some point, I would have thought that these tickets would have been available, unless, they were reserved for Amex only, all along.

Oh well, another all’s well that ends well story… 🙂

On a separate but related topic, perhaps someone out there can explain the following head-scratcher to me. Ticketmaster is one of the few outfits out there that charges zero to snail mail real tickets to me, but charges for me to print the tickets myself. I simply don’t get it. How could they not want to incent me to print it on my printer, and avoid the printing, handling and postage costs?

Whenever there is enough time to have them safely mailed (June 11th certainly qualifies), I always have them mailed to me, because I hate incenting bad behavior on the part of any vendor. I always print my own tickets when that is the cheapest (usually free, but not always!) choice.

Folks, please explain to me what I am missing in this equation, even if your theory is kooky! 😉