Robert Plant and Allison Krauss entered the Greek Theater stage from opposite sides Monday night, stepping toward centerstage in time to the slinky blues of “Rich Woman”; nearly two hours later, following the mournful farewell of “Your Long Journey,” they bowed and walked offstage together, giving the aud a ravishing lesson in harmony, or how opposites attract. The two songs also bookend “Rising Sand” (Rounder), the hauntingly beautiful album that the two released together last year. The live show went deeper in exploring much the same territory.
Plant is wizened, a golden god (as he described himself in his day as Led Zeppelin’s lead singer) in autumn; Krauss, who has led Union Station for nearly 20 years, still exudes a dewy innocence, her voice an instrument of breathtaking purity beside his mongrel howl. When they sing together, it’s one of those combinations all the more satisfying for being so unexpected.
Plant introduced the evening as “The Rising Sand Traveling Revue,” and that feels like the perfect description. Both Plant and Krauss get solo showcases (as does “Rising Sand’s” producer, T Bone Burnett) — Krauss brought some gospel calm to the often swampy proceedings, with lovely takes on the Stanley Brothers’ “Greener Pastures” and Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s Dickensian ballad “Trampled Rose” — but the evening’s most memorable moments came when Plant and Krauss brought their voices together.
They’re playful on Plant’s “In the Mood” (performed as a medley with the murder ballad “Matty Groves”), Krauss’ voice leaping over Plant’s at the end of each chorus; haunted during the stunning reworking of “Black Dog,” which was turned into a minor-key bayou stalker, the main riff carried by Stuart Duncan’s banjo (he also adds a violin solo as possessed as Jimmy Page’s guitar on the original); flirtatious on “Black Country Woman,” with Plant affecting an Elvis-styled croon; placid and serious on “Killing the Blues”; and jostling each other on the Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On).” With Krauss taking the Sandy Denny part, the duet on “The Battle of Evermore,” Plant’s Middle-earth allegory, was a thrilling ride.
The pair bring out the best in each other. Plant, not having to howl over a rock band, turns delicate and vulnerable, and it’s a real joy to hear Krauss let loose on the earthy, honky-tonk kiss-off “It’s Goodbye and So Long to You.”
Their collaboration was masterminded by Burnett, and the band’s dense but detailed sound reflects his input. He’s brought together something of a roots-rock all-star band — Jay Bellerose provides the expressive drumming, Buddy Miller adds clotted, revved-up rockabilly guitar lines, and Stuart Duncan is the band’s utility man, adding banjo, mandolin, fiddle and guitar ornamentation.
Aaron Neville’s “Fortune Teller” is usually performed as a novelty, but here, with a roiling New Orleans rhythm and Krauss’ spectral, wordless vocal, it’s deadly serious. Townes Van Zandt’s “Nothin’,” a painful nihilistic yawp, builds to an inexorable climax, becoming a folk rock “Kashmir.” And they race through Johnny Horton’s “One Man Woman” like a bootlegger on the run from the revenuers. The band’s stellar, evocative playing is the glue that holds the evening together.