Live Review: Alison Krauss and Union Station, Uptown Amphitheatre, 7/28/2012

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Alison Krauss & Union Station
Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre
July 28, 2012

“We always like to sing a good sad song,” Alison Krauss told the crowd after performing "Wild Bill Jones" on Saturday night at Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre. “That one had everything — somebody gets killed, somebody gets dumped, somebody’s a-drinkin’... ” Krauss said, to audience cheers.

Krauss wasn’t wrong. For 22 years, the fiddler has been making songs about Southern blues and heartbreak with her band Union Station. Their most recent album, Paper Airplane, provides their traditional one-two punch of beautifully wrought, borderline pop-country songs about love as well as foot-stomping bluegrass numbers. This wasn’t the band’s first trip to Charlotte, and this time, they brought dobro player Jerry Douglas along for the ride.

The seats were nearly packed — surprising when you consider how bluegrass has such a niche audience, but the standard when it comes to Krauss and Union Station's essentially mainstream bluegrass style. The sound was clean and polished, with the only missteps coming from a bit a feedback near the end of the show. That refined type of playing serves well for more pop-sounding hits like “Let Me Touch You For A While,” but seems a bit out of place on down-home jams like “Who’s Your Uncle.” Krauss and Union Station carried all their songs well, wailing on their respective instruments like indulgent lead guitarists.

Krauss serves as ringleader for the band, introducing the members and cracking jokes during a tuning break. This set the right mood. Krauss and Union Station are arena-big, but they wouldn’t be comfortable with all the pomp of a traditional arena show. It’s easy to forget what a talented fiddler Krauss is. She has such an incredible, piercing voice that carries so well in a live setting that she could easily be just another CMT princess. But you can’t ignore it live — Krauss goes to town on that fiddle. What’s more, she’s highly expressive both singing and playing, which works well with all her sad songs.

Near the end of the show, Jerry Douglas had a small solo set seamlessly playing Paul Simon’s “American Tune” and Chick Corea’s “Spain.” Douglas is not a performer by any means. His hat hiding his face, it would normally be hard to even notice him, except for the fact that he is a complete master of his instrument. Not only did Douglas make complex finger picking look easy, but he elicited such a variety of sounds from the dobro that I’m certain no one else has a better knowledge of the instrument.

For most of the show, the band played a heavy amount of songs from their new album. However, Krauss and Union Station came back for an encore of shortened versions of some of their best hits like “When You Say Nothing At All,” “Down to the River to Pray" and “Whiskey Lullaby.” The band was crowded around one microphone for the encore, which proved to be a better set up. The playing seemed more off the hilt, and the four-part harmonies seemed to blend even better. The crowd sang along, and lighting struck in the distance. If only for a moment, the amphitheatre seemed intimate. The sky was grey and the grass was blue.

Setlist
Paper Airplane
Dust Bowl Children
Who's Your Uncle
Daylight
Sinking Stone
Let Me Touch You for Awhile
Ghost in this House
Baby, Now That I've Found You
Rain Please Go Away
Sawing on the Strings
Wild Bill Jones
Every Time You Say Goodbye
American Tune
Spain
Pastures of Plenty
The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn
Dimming of the Day
Man of Constant Sorrow

Encore
When You Say Nothing At All
Whiskey Lullaby
Down to the River to Pray
Your Long Journey
There is a Reason

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