By the time Alison Krauss and Union Station waved farewell to the capacity crowd at Cary, North Carolina’s Booth Amphitheatre, they had unfurled a career-spanning set that included 30 songs. That’s been the standard during their lengthy Paper Airplane tour, and the tour’s moniker has proven applicable only because of the recently released album of the same name. In reality, songs from the album made up only a small percentage of the setlist, and the band seems to be including a wider sample of material than ever. The band’s current show is perhaps the most group-oriented live effort they’ve ever produced, with all of the principals – Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Barry Bales, Ron Block, and Dan Tyminski – contributing songs. There’s also the occasional addition of drums and keys to fill in those spaces when necessary.
The guys ambled and shambled around Krauss like the center of gravity she is, adding their expert instrumental touch to her exquisite coo. The notoriously cheeky Krauss kept the banter to a relative minimum and the band flew through the typical opening duo of “Paper Airplane” and Peter Rowan’s “Dust Bowl Children,” the latter sung by Tyminski in his unmistakable howl. Krauss offered a brief story about her pilgrimage to Mama Dip’s famous restaurant in nearby Chapel Hill and then guided the band on a considerable trip through their songbook. A string of Krauss’ elegant touchtone songs like “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” “Let Me Touch You For A While,” and “Every Time You Say Goodbye” was diced with down-home interludes, like Tyminski’s boisterous “Rain Please Go Away” and the equally upbeat group number “Sawing on the Strings.” Rustic, appropriate imagery was used in the production, providing fine visual backdrops such as an eerie hallway during “Ghost in This House.”
Booth Amphitheatre has a history of uncooperative neighbors who somehow can’t tolerate any noise, no matter how few evenings a year, and the venue’s low sound was evident during Jerry Douglas’ solo jaunt. The frogs, birds and crickets calling out from the lake behind the stage were plainly audible, even from the third row right in front of the dobro. While such softness lent an intimate nature to moments like Douglas’ take on the Chick Corea song “Spain,” it kept barn-burners like “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” and “Bonita and Bill Butler” from reaching their full sonic potential. Thankfully, the crowd was overwhelmingly respectful, almost too quiet, in fact, and the silence exposed the nostalgic intricacies of Bales’ “Miles to Go” and allowed the truncated “Oh Atlanta” to plunk along in the most satisfying manner.
The encore featured the band front and center, gathered around a single mic for the ubiquitous “When You Say Nothing at All,” which was drastically shortened, and the stirring “Down to the River to Pray.” “Whiskey Lullaby” drew a noticeable crowd response due to its platinum run back in 2004, but the show ended somewhat solemnly with the death’s door tale “Your Long Journey” and the devotional “There Is A Reason.” While quizzically paced and overtly reserved at times, the show delivered more than a healthy dose of hits and world class performing. After many years with no new material, the new songs have infused the band with enough life to get back out and give their fans more shows to remember.