Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Alison Krauss & Union Station at The Sage

Alison Krauss & Union Station
Featuring Jerry Douglas
The Sage, Gateshead

With the voice of an angel and a Bluegrass fiddle fit to challenge the devil, Alison Krauss was back in the UK with Union Station for the first time in too many years. Definitely a date not to be missed...

It seems I've accidentally set a tradition of going to shows on Bonfire Night. It means I miss the fireworks but I'm more than happy with the entertainment I've been treated to. In 2010 I attended - and enjoyed - the Banoffee Pie Tour Collective. It doesn't seem like a year ago.

This year I was delighted to be in possession of a pair of tickets for the great Alison Krauss & Union Station. I bought them many months ago and I'm glad I did; any delay would have meant missing out on this special tour, as The Sage was absolutely packed out on the night.

There was no support act. Just like it was for the Rhythm Kings, the show started promptly at 7.30 p.m. The very appearance of the artistes was enough to produce enthusiastic and appreciative applause from the packed audience. Two hours of authentic Bluegrass followed, delivered in style by the undoubted modern masters of the genre.

There is a new CD to promote this year called Paper Airplane. We got to hear roughly half of the tracks from there, along with an excellent selection of songs from Alison's career both with Union Station and without. Indeed, the opening number was the title track of the new CD and it drew more applause, this time happy recognition.

Set List
(I think this is correct; please send me a comment if you were there and spot any errors)

Paper Airplane
Dustbowl Children
Who's Your Uncle
Sinking Stone
Let Me Touch You For A While
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
Jerry Douglas Medley
Pastures of Plenty
Dimming of the Day
Lie Awake
Bonita and Bill Butler
Miles to Go Man of Constant Sorrow
Any Old Time
Oh, Atlanta


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

The first few songs came think and fast, with little time for talking in between. This changed somewhat after the first half hour and we were given various anecdotal snippets and band introductions.

Alison said they were '...so happy to be back in England; it's been a number of years since we travelled here as a band. I spent some time over here a few years ago with a curly haired person...'
(we know who she means).

Introducing Ron Block (banjo, guitar) led to a story about him being in London and of him trying to take some photos '...at the big gallery there.' He was stopped by a guard and, according to Ron himself, ‘...they forcibly threw me out.'

Characters in Bluegrass songs don't always have the happiest of lives and some don't even survive the experience. Alison mentioned this in passing: 'A lot of time people will come up to us and say , hey what’s your problem, doing those sad songs all the time. After a long time of careful study, we finally figured out that we were just... sad people...' But they didn't look it; they were clearly enjoying playing as much as we were enjoying listening.

Indeed, the artistes were in good humour throughout the show. Left alone on the stage to play his medley, Jerry Douglas (Dobro virtuoso – and musical director of the famous Transatlantic Sessions tours) hinted about the perils of being involved with a touring band. ‘I’m going to play a couple of tunes while they’re gone…rearranging all my stuff on the bus…’

Later, Dan Tyminski (George Clooney's singing voice in the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou) took a break from guitar and vocal duties to enthuse about a coffee machine in a previous hotel. It's hardly Rock 'n' Roll, but we like it.

Bass player Barry Bales completed the main line-up. He looked way too young to have been in the group for 21 years. Various songs were enhanced by the talents of a drummer and pianist who appeared and disappeared when required (whose names, alas, I did not catch).

It was a wonderful evening. Let's hope they come back soon.

Follow the the latest news and tour dates for Alison Krauss & Union Station over at the official website.

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