As I wrote about in looking at what makes John Mayer, Kacey Musgraves and Harry Styles such great performers there are certain traits all great concerts share, including personality, stage presence, a centerpiece song and more. And as I said, some of those, most notably charisma, cannot be taught.
The same is true of experience. You will not see a more moving vocal performance this year, or next year, or the year after, or possibly in your lifetime, than Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” during her return to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival earlier this summer. Why? Because “Both Sides Now” written by someone in their 20s is astonishing, but sung by a 78-year-old with a whole lifetime of experience it is devastating.
There is no substitute for experience. That was certainly proven true again watching a flawless Robert Plant and Alison Krauss deliver a perfect show at L. A.’s Greek Theater last night (August 18).
Like Mitchell, Plant, who turns 74 tomorrow (August 20), brings the depth and wisdom of his years on Earth to his vocals. His turn Thursday night on “When The Levee Breaks,” a song made famous by Led Zeppelin, was astonishing, channeling every flood he had seen in his 74 years into the emotional resonance of his voice.
Plant, to me, as the only person in history to front Led Zeppelin, is the greatest frontman rock has ever seen. And he brings the same charisma, charm and playfulness that made him a legend. Throughout the 90-minute set he played with the crowd, even teasing Krauss about not speaking at all.
But while Krauss let her counterpart play host for the night, musically they were very much an equal partnership. Besides the fact Krauss stood toe to toe with Planet vocally, with each having several standout performances as they took turns soloing often, so much of the charm and joy of the night was the admiration and respect the two clearly have for each other.
One of the highlights for those who watched closely came as Krauss and Plant stood side by side beaming as guitarist/opening act J.D. McPherson played a blistering solo. Plant and Krauss understandably reveled in the brilliance of their top-notch band, all of whom excelled.
Musically the night was flawless, absolutely masterful from the opening “Rich Woman” through the encore, a joyous cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Can’t Let Go.” There were countless highlights, including the retooled, rockabilly cover of the Zeppelin classic “Rock and Roll,” Plant’s playful take on the Benny Spellman standard, “Fortune Teller,” Krauss’s jaw-dropping lead vocals on both the Everly Brothers’ “Price Of Love” and “High And Lonesome,” their magnificent harmonies on the Bert Jansch song, “Go Your Way” and every other song they did.
They showed amazing range, drawing on their love of blues, country, rock, rockabilly, Americana and more. Each style they explored was mixed with their genuine love for the music with their own unique styles. The result was a master class in a hundred years of American music.
This was one of those shows that when it was announced looked amazing on paper — two great artists together under the stars at the Greek Theater, which Angelenos know is the real best outdoor venue in L.A.. And yet as promising it appeared, there was no way to anticipate just what a perfect night it would be. At the end of the night, Plant quipped, “Thank you for coming out, we know you have a lot of alternatives. And you chose the best.” More true than he probably even realized, as it is hard to imagine a more joyful night of music this year than the magic of these two together.