SPAC – “This is something we’ve been thinking about for 14 years,” said British music legend Robert Plant at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Friday night, where he and bluegrass musician Alison Krauss played the second date of their “Raise the Roof” tour to an adoring crowd.
The pair first collaborated in 2007 on “Raising Sand,” a Grammy-winning album of eclectic covers that showcased the duo’s spellbinding vocal harmonies. Their follow-up, “Raise the Roof,” is another T Bone Burnett production that reimagines songs from the roots music tradition. Recorded just before the COVID-19 pandemic, they are finally touring behind it now.
Everything about the performance was classy, from the lush, draped curtains that hung in ripples behind the stage to the pair’s outfits: Plant in a black embroidered Western shirt and Krauss in a flowing floral dress.
The ambiance was subdued and noir-ish, giving songs like the Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love” a sultry, mysterious vibe. At the start, the stage was bathed in rich purple light, giving the set a “Twin Peaks” vibe – like the haunting lounge-club jazz and finger-snapping syncopation of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Dance of the Dream Man” from the David Lynch TV show.
Plant’s former life as charismatic frontman for Led Zeppelin seems far away today. He and Krauss unveiled a much-altered arrangement of Zeppelin hit “Rock and Roll.” It shuffled and swung with the retro stylings of their five-piece band: guitarist JD McPherson, upright bassist Dennis Crouch, drummer Jay Bellerose, and multi-instrumentalists Stuart Duncan and Viktor Krauss.
An avid record collector, Plant is known for appreciating primal American blues and rock and roll, a style reflected in the choice of backing musicians. (Sweet Side Records in Glens Falls even posted a photo of Plant browsing their blow-out sale earlier in the day before the SPAC show. Reportedly, he bought some vinyl blues albums.)
The chemistry between Plant and Krauss, who first met in 2004 at a Lead Belly tribute concert, was undeniable. The pair stunned with a version of Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore,” which drew cheers and whoops from the crowd for Plant’s sustained high notes and Krauss’ beautiful harmonies.
The 73-year-old Plant has aged well. His hair, though riven with gray, is still lush and curly, and it waved in an onstage breeze during “Quattro (World Drifts In),” a hypnotic cover of indie band Calexico. His voice sounded fantastic. He’s a legend but exuded a humility that infused songs with sensitivity. At the same time, he could still unleash the vocal power that made “High and Lonesome” and “When the Levee Breaks” especially thrilling.
The set featured almost every song from “Raise the Roof,” as well as a handful from “Raising Sand.” Krauss too sounded fantastic. She was spotlighted on the stage alone for Little Milton cover “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson” and added dazzling fiddle playing on set-centerpiece “Please Read the Letter.”
JD McPherson, an Oklahoma rockabilly musician whose frequent tour stops in the Capital Region have made him a favorite at local venues like the Ale House and the Hangar, is an honorary hometown musician, so it was great to see him get his props on the big SPAC stage.
Noting how thrilled his 15-year-old self would be to play with Plant, McPherson and his retro-styled band opened up the show with sharp, swinging roots music that included “North Side Gal” and a deliciously downtempo version of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.”