Walking through the parking lot at Saturday night’s sold-out Edgefield show felt like we were being led toward a cult meeting. We marched with an almost goofy energy toward the entrance, everyone smiling and nodding toward their fellow fans’ Led Zeppelin shirts.
The lawn was packed with blankets and chairs and lots of silver-haired people clamoring to get the best seats and views. And though the 7,000-capacity amphitheater is sizable, it still felt intimate; no matter where you were in the place, you could hear each song crystal clear.
Though most of the audience hadn’t heard of opener JD McPherson, the energetic rockabilly and his band got some hands clapping and heads nodding. “Who is this?” people were asking. “They’re good.” But most of the audience conversation went something like: “Oh yeah, I remember the first time I saw Led Zeppelin.” So yes, though the show was billed Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, we all knew who everyone really came to see.
As soon as Robert Plant walked onto that stage, the energy in the already buzzing amphitheater was magnified. The cheering felt like a celebration; some people actually got teary-eyed when he started to sing. It was hard not to be captivated by the legend, who was so clearly at home and happy on stage, moving and clapping and smiling through each song because he just couldn’t help himself.
Plant and Krauss assembled a widely respected backing band whose members each had their solo moments to shine. McPherson seemed thrilled to be back in business to play lead guitar, and though he’s no Jimmy Page (who is?), McPherson and Plant had a pretty adorable stage relationship. Krauss’ brother Viktor Krauss was on keys and mandolin, the renowned Dennis Crouch was pure as pie on that stand-up bass of his, and Stuart Duncan busted out some mean fiddle solos, most notably on the twangy version of the Zeppelin classic “Rock and Roll.”
Plant and Krauss sang plenty of songs off of their new album, Raise the Roof, and some hits from 2007′s Raising Sand. Krauss’ vocals shone beautifully on songs like the Allen Toussaint cover “Trouble With My Lover” and the Anne Briggs song “Go Your Way.”
Despite Krauss’ vocal delights (it’s like she hasn’t aged a year), even if he’d tried, Plant couldn’t help but upstage her and everyone else up there. Even when McPherson or Duncan were wailing on a solo, it was hard to watch anything else. While Plant couldn’t bring out the falsetto vocal wailings of his youth, between Krauss, the mandolin and a little country makeover, both the duo’s album songs and the couple of Zeppelin classics were reimagined for the night.
Cue “Battle of Evermore,” one of the evening’s most crowd-thrilling moments. As soon as those opening mandolin strings were strummed, the crowd erupted in cheers followed by the beautiful silence of an audience enraptured. Like most of the night’s songs, the six-minute number had some twangy kisses and showed the Plant-Krauss partnership at its finest. Krauss toned down the impossibly high notes Sandy Denny once belted on the original Zeppelin track to create a warmer harmony made rich and lively with drummer Jay Bellerose bringing the beat with heart.
No, Plant wasn’t rocking a shirtless half-vest situation (thank you). And no, he wasn’t moving as loosely or singing as high as he did in his prime, but his vocals still sound like the Robert Plant of memories. At show’s end, the tipsy, starry-eyed crowd could be heard saying, “He’s still so good,” as they meandered back toward the parking lot. People were singing and smiling, looking like they’d gotten exactly what they came for.