(Current entries)

(All Reviews Since 2004)

Leave feedback

Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan


Cardiff The Cardiff International Arena, Cardiff
May 8th 2008

We’ve taken a train on Mr Brunel’s railway to come to Cardiff, the very heart of the Principality, and of course, of the land of my fathers, or at least some of them. It’s a handsome city - half heritage, half building site, dominated by its castle and a stone’s throw away from the Millennium Stadium, home at the moment to the best national Rugby Union team in Europe (‘though sadly, not the world). And so it should be for a warrior race for whom sport has substituted the ancient art of war. So the finely- honed and fearsome physiques of the male savage are now dedicated to the twin temples of rugby and soccer – and when we arrived the capital was in the grips of football mania as the eponymous Cardiff City was about to head for Wembley (bad luck boys). And at a time when the world’s headlines are dominated by unimaginable natural disasters, by doom-laden predictions of economic implosion, by deep-seated fears of drought, flooding and all-purpose ecological meltdown, and by the money- grabbing antics of a certain ex-prime minister’s wife, it’s good to know that the local newspaper really goes after the story that counts for the Cardiff man (or woman) in the streets.

We’re here to join Robert Plant on the latest leg of his musical journey, but not before we’ve dined in style in the company of one of my many ‘cousins’. Then it’s off to the Cardiff International Arena, a sort of charmless modern multi-purpose structure in the middle of what appears to be the biggest building site in the world outside of Beijing (more shops apparently – hooray!). The place is blessed with wonderful acoustics – or so it seems, as the sound is very good. And the very friendly and orderly crowd (some of whom have tethered their sheep neatly outside) listen with an eagerness and attentiveness that one rarely experiences in the Metropolis.
Indeed towards the end of the show it almost feels as if we could be in a chapel, which is fitting for such a God-fearing country, but for a couple of guys who are clearly brainless on Brains and persistently attempt to ‘dance’ under the noses of a flock of disapproving stewards.
If you don’t know, Plant has deserted his adventures in the East and instead turned his attention west, to Americana and a delve into the Great American Song Book, in the company of singer and fiddle player Alison Krauss, perhaps best known among non-Nashville aficionados for her singing in the Cohen Brothers’ Homeric classic ‘Oh Brother where are thou?’. The album they released, Raising Sand, was probably one of the best of last year, but it’s a ‘grower’ that needs to be given a little time to release its full power and complexity. At its heart is guitarist and producer T Bone Burnett (who was also the musical director for ‘Oh Brother’) and a group of astonishing musicians, most of whom are here tonight, including Burnett, drummer Jay Bellerose (with a quite unique style), and acoustic bass player Dennis Crouch. They’re joined on fiddle, banjo and guitar by Stuart Duncan. Sadly, Marc Ribot, an unusual choice for a country album, isn’t on stage, but he’s replaced by Nashville guitar legend Buddy Miller. The band are simply sensational.
I had puzzled how Plant would make one album into a show. The device was that in addition to performing almost all of Raising Sand, he gave a lot of room to Krauss for her own work, and T Bone piled in with a couple of numbers of his own. Then, of course, there was the banjo-fuelled rendition of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’, (the audience responding to Plant’s “Oh yeah, oh yeah” in a carefully-constructed six-part harmony) and later, the charming ‘Battle of Evermore’, with Kraus adeptly taking Sandy Denny’s original vocal part. But with one exception, the highlights were the wonderfully-chosen songs from Raising Sand – with Plant’s unusually delicate and sensitive vocals pairing perfectly with Krauss’s soaring harmonies and the tremolo-tinged guitars of Burnett and Miller. Plant Krauss
It’s almost as if Krauss is Plant’s long-lost brother Phil or Don, and it’s quite fitting that they ended the show with the Everly Brothers’ ‘Gone gone gone’. They had started with the playful ‘Rich Woman’, the album’s opener, Krauss sang excellently on ‘Let your loss be your lesson’ , ‘Sister Rosetta goes before us’ and the absolutely haunting ‘Trampled rose’ (when you could have heard a pin drop). Plant hammed up ‘Fortune Teller’ in a way that only he could, but was hugely powerful in his delivery of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Nothin’, a no-holds-barred performance by the whole band. And together they harmonised beautifully on Plant and Page’s most Everlyesque composition, ‘Please read the letter’. As you can tell from the adjectives, Serge, it was a very special show indeed, but the moment of the evening was when Krauss, with Plant, Miller and Duncan on backing vocals, sang an ‘a cappella’ version of ‘Valley to pray’, which, thinking about it, could almost be an alternative Welsh national anthem.
Dining in style in Cardiff
They say that Plant turned down zillions of dollars for a Led Zeppelin reunion this year in order to tour with Krauss. I can only admire his steadfastness and resolve – he’s made a brilliant album and the live performance is even better. What next, I wonder, from this travelling minstrel who also demonstrated an uncanny mastery of the native tongue. Fel i mewn ateb Ddeuda , " ddiolch 'ch Rhobert , achos an agos 'n arddun berfformiad "? - Nick Morgan (Cardiff photographs by Kate and Nick's iPhone)
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss MySpace page
T Bone Burnett MySpace page

Check the index of all reviews:
Nick's Concert Reviews


There's nothing more down there...


Drink Blog Code