Alison Krauss & Union Station – Chicago Theatre (Chicago, IL)
Music has the power to distract us from crises. The afternoon of this show, as I worried about quarterly tax payments and set about responding to the never-ending tide of e-mail, I inserted Alison Krauss & Union Station’s outstanding 1997 Rounder release So Long So Wrong into my computer. Soon, things were starting to get right with the world. Union Station guitarist Dan Tyminski was belting out “The Road Is A Lover”, Krauss’ inimitable fiddle licks and harmony vocals were riding the melody, and I was doing substantial damage to that pesky electronic In Box. Then I noticed a curl of smoke snaking up the wall.
Opening my office door, I was confronted with a mass of white smoke so impenetrable that it was difficult to find my way out of the second-story apartment. On the street, I found a neighbor with a cell phone and dialed 911. The fire trucks and cops were there in minutes, but they were preceded by an army of poisonous lizards masquerading in the form of insurance restoration specialists, board-up company representatives, and cleaning service agents. As giant orange flames leapt out the windows of my house and reptilian subhumans shoved their laminated business cards at me, a single thought overcame me: “Will I still be able to make it to that Alison Krauss show tonight?”
No one was hurt in the blaze; the house was destroyed; and a tuxedoed usher escorted me to a wooden seat in the historic Chicago Theatre just as the band opened with a gorgeous rendition of Michael McDonald’s “It Don’t Matter Now”, which appears on Krauss’ perfect 1999 disc Forget About It. This was followed by two other gems from that album — the title cut and an exquisite cover of Todd Rundgren’s “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”.
Throughout her career, Krauss has alternated between bluegrass/country albums with Union Station and solo discs that explore vast horizons of contemporary acoustic music. Forget About It is the latter, a mesmerizing, hushed affair marked by an extraordinary sense of intimacy. Her quiet tunes transferred astoundingly well to the live setting, thanks in part to a top-shelf venue and a worshipful, stone-silent audience.
But the real reason was Krauss’ uncanny control of her unearthly soprano. She would subtly lean away from the microphone or slightly shift the shape of her mouth in order to hit the right note. Although Krauss doesn’t appear to move much onstage, few singers are more skilled at singing with the entire body.
While delicate tunes such as “Sleep On” and “Maybe” were brilliant, the concert was not a staid affair. Dobro genius Jerry Douglas dazzled the crowd with the instrumentals “A Tribute To Peador O’Donnell” and “Takarasaka”, both from his 1998 solo disc Restless On The Farm. The band reached a near-rock frenzy on Little Feat’s “Oh, Atlanta”. Krauss was a hilarious emcee as well, telling stories about bassist Barry Bales’ dog Booger and recounting some of the “mature” film titles available at her hotel, such as “Driving Miss Daisy Crazy” and “The Bare Wench Project”.
The expert musicianship transported me elsewhere until the band got to “Ghost In This House”. Its lyrics took on added poignancy: “I’m just a whisper of smoke/I’m all that’s left of two hearts on fire/That once burned out of control/You took my body and soul/I’m just a ghost in this house.” Up to that point, Krauss and company had made the day’s previous events seem far, far way.