Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings | 9.3.11

"A friend called us because they heard this song on the radio, which rarely happens and it kind of scared us, if you know what I mean."

 

 

 As the raucous audience slowly quieted to a dull roar, someone hollered "I love you!" from the seated crowd. As if in collusion, another cat call rang out almost immediately, this time from the back corner of the balcony "I love you more!" The Appalachian-folk powerhouse Gillian Welch and David Rawlings had certainly earned the adulation, performing with a captivating authority and touching intimacy from the moment they went onstage. The two embodied a rustic America of centuries past, as Welch dawned a denim sun dress and Rawlings dressed in a gray suit, bolo tie and tan cowboy hat. Welch smirked modestly and quipped "Now, now, this isn’t a competition." 
 
The duo then quietly rolled into the next song the way they started every song; leaning back from the microphones, the two kept time with a few stomps of their boots and sang a few bars to each other in a whispered breath. Then they approached the microphones and began in unison. 
 
Each song seemed to build to an escalatingly more impressive display of dexterity as Rawlings would break out into a lightning-quick solo littered with soulful twists and acrobatic pepperings of arpeggios that would make any aspiring guitar-nut jealous. His guitar was a closed-body acoustic body with f-holes instead of a normal round sound hole in the center. Its reddish-brown sunburst body made a dark, almost tinny sound compared to Welch’s and served as a perfect compliment. Where Welch’s guitar was deeper and strummed, Rawlings’ cut through during the teeth-gritting solos but managed to fade into the background when her voice came in. 
 
Equally impressive were the vocal performances throughout the night. Welch’s smokey, southern drawl was perfectly supported by the light breathy tones of Rawlings. During the team’s second set, a "wardrobe malfunction" thrust Rawlings in the lime-light. After shyly prefacing the song with "I’m not much of a solo performer," he filled time with an extended version of "Big Rock Candy Mountain." The two even switched roles soon thereafter and sang a plucky upbeat song of Rawlings’ creation, "Sweet Tooth." 
 
Welch seemed very at-ease onstage, chatting in between songs with the audience and telling a few stories. "We realized something kind of strange last month. We realized that we’ve written a holiday song. That’s if you count the day Elvis died." Welch broke her gleaning smile into a sideways smirk, then went on, "A friend called us because they heard this song on the radio, which rarely happens and it kind of scared us, if you know what I mean." Scattered whoops from the audience erupted in anticipation of one of their most popular songs, "Elvis Presley Blues." 
 
Perhaps one of the most well-received songs of the night, "Elvis Presley Blues" showcased everything the group does best. Welch’s soulful vocals crooned thoughtful lyrics and Rawlings whispered underneath. The guitars melded into one indistinguishable waterfall of sound, trickling beautiful melodies over a percolating baseline. The jaunty verses collapsed into beautiful choruses where the two voices sank into the beat, and blended into each other. 
 
The night ended with a sing-along. The audience joined in on the old gospel number "I’ll Fly Away." Welch’s version was made popular in the Cohen brothers film "O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?" (with Allison Kraus). The otherwise quiet crowd sprang up in enthusiasm as Welch clamored, "One more!" which prompted everyone to join in another chorus. 
| Glen Elkins

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