There was a theme at Capitol Theatre on Monday night that was impossible to miss: love lost. The idea was so pervasive in nearly all of the tunes from Alison Krauss and Union Station that it was even the source of a number of jokes from the band.
Apparently playing to their strengths, the bluegrass fivesome stuck with their favorite emotion and played it for all it was worth."We always say the sadder the better," Krauss joked near the end of her set, but it was funny because it was true.
The Captiol Theatre was a plush site for such "common" music, but it served both musicians and fans well as the clear acoustic sound of the guitars, banjo, dobro and fiddle were clear and sharp. The seats were comfortable and Krauss as the principal vocalist and speaker for the group said it was the "nicest theater we have ever seen."
The group is no stranger to adoration. It yanked down as many Grammys this year as R. Kelly and Bob Dylan, including best album for "So Long, So Wrong."
Still, the musicians were completely convincing every time they seemed overwhelmed by the virtually full house and the heated applause and whistling that followed each number.
Krauss's voice is soft and gentle and all the music is tailored to fit her style. There are few vocalists who can carry the emotion she does, which is why all those almost-sappy love songs come off so well. Every so often a word or phrase would be lost to her quiet, but her achingly sweet vocals - including the softness - made everything work.
Contrasting the sad titles such as, "Baby, Baby" and "Did You Think Forever Was Really Gonna Last," were a few upbeat numbers and lively instrumentals. Dobroist Jerry Douglas was especially fine on his instrument, taking the stage alone for a time to work his sliding and picking magic. His work helped to balance the steady diet of melancholy Union Station was feeding its adoring crowd.
Still, it is the 20-something Krauss who lifted the performance with her waifish beauty, her lacy voice and her warm personality.
"Here is another `dumped' song," she joked. "Ron Black writes great songs when he has been dumped, but his life has been going pretty well. We don't want to wish anything bad on Ron, but . . ."
Nearing the end of its set the band threw in a "murder ballad" in the tradition of country story-telling and showcased some clouds and various abstract shapes on the black background behind the living-room-like stage.
For an encore the band returned to the stage after a demanding standing ovation and threw a little change of pace at the fans. Members all gathered to one side and played without microphones except for a single stand because of the size of the theater.
Using the same emotional tools as they did all night, they sang a thankful song about Jesus Christ. Much like a prayer, the song was worshipful and beautiful and helped wash down all of the evening's gentle angst.