Leadbelly Tribute Concert, Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio
Plant Set-List: Where Did You Sleep Last Night (“In the pines”), Alabama Bound, Red Dress, Gallows Pole
This from Wyatt A. Brake
Harry Belafonte spoke very eloquently about his relationship with Leadbelly and the great artist’s influence on him and many others. Belafonte introduced Odetta. This wonderful woman must be in her seventh or eighth decade on this earth, but – my what a voice! She sang two songs with piano accompaniment, one of which was “You Don’t Know My Mind”, and she was fabulous. Goosebumps, shivers down the spine, you name it. I won’t go through every performer’s set, but it was definitely an evening filled with great music. There was much collaboration among the artists, and many performers’ sets overlapped. For example, I think Dave Alvin played with Dan Zanes and Dan Zanes played with Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
Brown is a treasure, playing guitar in a very interesting style and pausing to pick up a fiddle and play a little before resuming the song on the guitar. John Hiatt’s version of “Midnight Special” was great too.
No cameras were allowed, but some did gain entry. Hopefully someone will send a few in. Robert Plant’s photographer Frank Melfi was there, and the show was recorded with a professional video camera, although who might have access to that remains a mystery. Now – I might have the order of the songs wrong and I’m sure I don’t know all the names of the tunes performed, but Robert was initially brought out with Justin Adams (who could first be seen in the wings while Belafonte was speaking), Alison Krauss, and the Tarbox Ramblers (who opened for Robert the first time I saw him – in Boston 5/25/2001) as a backing band.
They opened with the song that was probably made most famous by Nirvana.
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” was done in a great way, with Plant and Krauss harmonizing on some parts and trading vocals in others. Krauss played violin. Adams was on acoustic guitar. Robert came out slowly and bowed appreciatively to the ovation. He made a few remarks about Leadbelly and then the music started. He started snapping his fingers to rhythm, and he and Krauss looked at each other whenever they sang as one, although Plant was definitely the lead vocal. Alison appeared to be taking her cues from him. Plant continued to snap his fingers throughout the hauntingly slow and deliberate piece.
This was my fifth time seeing Robert and his voice has never disappointed.
When I compare his vocals of the last few years with the “Unledded” recording and subsequent tour, I am struck by his remarkable improvement. I know this has been discussed on the list before, along with the reminder that the type of venue is a factor and the simple fact that the songs he’s doing now don’t really require (for the most part anyway) the type of screaming and strain on the vocals that Zeppelin songs like Heartbreaker or the Wanton Song might need. I’m not sure how much of it is the selection of songs and how much is just a different approach to singing. Either way, I think he sounds just phenomenal. I could have listened to him all night.
Almost without exception, all the vocalists had LCD monitors on the floor from which they read the lyrics to the songs they sang. Robert was among the majority.
After “…Last Night”, another song was performed. “Alabama Bound” was done with The Cleveland Four, a quartet of black male vocalists. They sang backup on this tune. Robert left the stage and a few other artists took the stage after various intervals. Los Lobos was eventually brought on and they had a great rendition of “Bottle Up and Go.” Plant was introduced again with Alison Krauss and Robert kept singing about a pretty girl with a red dress on. I wasn’t clear on whether that was actually part of the Leadbelly song (I didn’t gear up on Leadbelly as much as I had planned to after I first ordered the tickets) or a reference from Dreamland’s “Red Dress.”
Regardless, at one point the band (with Adams on gymru] this time) broke into a strange amalgamation of Middle-Eastern tropical salsa and Robert sang the line, “I’m just a Fool In The Rain” multiple times before repeating it once more in a break, more clearly, and many people in the crowd applauded vigorously. He then returned to the Red Dress motif. During the break between vocals, he came out toward the edge of the stage to clap and shake his hips a little bit to the beat. He had to take a few steps to do this, because all the band equipment was set up so that it would be hidden by the curtain when it was drawn. This resulted in all of the performers being well back from even those of us in the front rows.
I’ll preface my remarks on the last song by saying that I have not heard a Strange Sensation take on Gallows Pole yet, so the Plant/Adams/Los Lobos version (Krauss had left the stage by then) of the song was quite unique to me. It was very effective and enjoyable.
As he thanked the crowd and started to walk off, Robert was confronted with the problem of being on the wrong side of a rapidly closing curtain. He noticed too late and tried to hop over some monitors, only to slip and fall (probably the fault of slippery, traction-free dress shoes and maybe a freshly waxed floor). He did not look seriously hurt in any way and he appeared to be laughing it off, but his fall was certainly a less than dignified way to end the evening. After some closing remarks by the president of the Rock Hall, the lights came on and everyone was on their way out. It was barely 10:30 and Plant had done about 4 or 5 songs.
While it was a great night of music, I guess I had just hoped that the headliner would have been able to do a few more numbers, especially after it was repeatedly noted that “Leadbelly had 500 songs at his fingertips.” All in all though, it was most assuredly well worth attending. Robert was in great spirits and fine voice.
http://www.digzep-dutch.com/newpage5.html : Pix of Plant Onstage