We went to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at Ravinia last night. It was a good concert, but it wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. Of course, both Robert and Alison are awesome performers (I use the term “awesome” not in the casual way that people (including me) tend to throw it around, but closer to its true sense – they are both performers that leave you in awe), and T. Bone Burnett’s arrangements are nothing short of masterful. But, the concert did have some down sides.
First, despite T. Bone’s incredible musical genius, he doesn’t seem to understand that you don’t put a bunch of slow songs in a row in your setlist. There were too many slow songs last night. If you’ve heard the album, it’s like that. Sure, it’s a great record, but it’s difficult to listen to it all at once because the are just so many slow songs on it. Last night’s concert was like that. Unfortunately, with a concert, you don’t have the option to listen to part of it now and part of it a little later. So, when you get three songs in a row that are down tempo, by the time you get through them it feels like you’re just dragging along.
Second, the sound in the pavilion was terrible. The vocal levels were too high compared to the rest of the mix. In fact, they were so high that both Robert’s and Alison’s vocals would hit “peak” levels and clip whenever they pushed a little bit. For those of you not familiar with mixing, I don’t mean to say that they were too loud. The volume level was fine. The inputs on the vocal mics were pushed too high. It’s a little hard (for me anyway) to explain, but the end result is the upper volume levels sound bad and can actually cause a very unpleasant sensation in your ears when the levels peak (which I felt quite frequently last night). The sound guy should be taken out back and shot for the disservice he did to their performance.
It did sound good when we got out of the pavilion and walked around. But we paid for the “good” seats – they should come with good sound. And, if you’ve never been to Ravinia, if you’re not in the pavilion, you can’t actually see the performers. Seriously. The lawn area doesn’t raise up behind the pavilion like most outdoor venues. It’s level, and (seemingly) a bit lower than the back of the pavilion. It’s great for the picnickers, but not if you want to actually see the concert.
On to the good stuff…
Like I said, T. Bone’s arrangements were amazing. The musicians were amazing. And, of course, Robert and Alison were amazing. The highlights (for me, anyhow) were the “In the Mood/Matty Grooves” medley and “Black Country Woman”. “Please Read the Letter” was one of my favorites off of the album (not to mention it’s original version from Page and Plant’s Walking into Clarksdale), so that was good to hear. T. Bone did a couple of songs on his own, and Alison did a great job with Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose”.
They did do a version of “Black Dog”, which I didn’t think much of. I’m not a huge fan of that song to begin with, but when Robert has recently reworked it with The Strange Sensation (to great effect), why rework it again for this project? Pick a different classic Zeppelin song in it’s place. Of course, they also did “Battle of Evermore”, which I pretty much expected they would. It didn’t do much for me, though. It was the one song that really didn’t stray too much from the original.
So, like I said, it was a good concert, but not as great a concert that I was hoping it would be. I am glad I went, though. And, honestly, I hope they put out a live album from this tour, because the songs that were great were simply amazing.