A packed house at Benaroya Hall Tuesday celebrated the alternately raucous and romantic reunion of platinum-haired country sweetheart Emmylou Harris and alt-country Texas bad boy Rodney Crowell, who played in Harris’ Hot Band back in the ‘70s.
It was a sweet night, despite the hall’s amplified sound issues. The accent was on teamwork, not only from the harmonizing principals, but their five countrified assistants, whose blend, drive and mutual empathy reached a level rarely heard outside Nashville.
The two singer-songwriters are on the road promoting their new, knockout album, “Old Yellow Moon” (Nonesuch).
Drenched in classic country and rockabilly, the group hit its stride deep into the set, with the robust twang and Texas shuffle of “Invitation to the Blues” and the infectious backbeat of “Still Learning How to Fly.”
Harris rocked out on the country jangle of “Luxury Liner,” with Australian Jedd Hughes soaring up the neck of his electric guitar. Crowell invoked the winking menace of Jerry Lee Lewis on “I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” with Chris Tuttle setting his honky-tonk keyboard afire.
The sweet moments worked, too. Harris and Crowell delivered a heavenly, heartbreaking edition of the Everly Brothers classic, “Love Hurts,” with a charmingly imperfect blend, dovetailing the fine silk thread of her voice with the rugged earth of his.
Crowell excelled on his wrenching ballad, “Til I Gain Control Again,” which Harris explained was the first song he ever sang for her. They cut to the heart of Townes Van Zandt’s enigmatic classic, “Pancho and Lefty,” later tossing in another Van Zandt gem, “If I Needed You.”
Harris, in a long black dress and silver boots, Crowell in black jeans and untucked shirt, joked personably about the truth quotient in their signature songs, “Red Dirt Girl” and “The Houston Kid,” both delivered with conviction.
“I spent some time in jail,” Crowell confessed. “I’m not proud of it,” then added mischievously, “Misdemeanors … now.”
Whatever the wrinkles in their pasts, this pair of alt-country stars sounded comfortable in their own skins today, reflected in a generous hour-and-forty-minute show that included “Grievous Angel,” “Ashes By Now,” “Back When We Were Beautiful,” “Bluebird Wine,” “Dreaming My Dreams” and the beautiful closing ballad, “Old Yellow Moon.”
Cult favorite British balladeer and guitarist extraordinaire Richard Thompson opened the show with a long set of his own, later joining Harris for a devastatingly nostalgic “How Will I Ever Be Simple Again” and joining in on rich, three-part harmony on Crowell’s “Glasgow Girl.”
The crowd, almost exclusively graying baby boomers, applauded as songs began, offering standing ovations for both acts. It’s a good thing they knew the words, since most lyrics dissolved into mush. Benaroya Hall was not designed for amplified music. Despite its excellent curation, the Live at Benaroya Hall series of popular concerts such as this one is a real problem for listeners.