Friday, August 10, 2007

Gillian Welch Comes Home

Last night was my first opportunity to see Gillian Welch and David Rawlings live and it definitely won't be my last. Playing to a packed and steamy room at the Cannery Ballroom, the pair were nothing short of amazing. Though billed as Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, her long time musical partner, is every bit as vital as her gorgeous voice. Together, their harmonies were spot on throughout the night and the playing of David Rawlings is hard to justly describe. Truly, his fills and solos are almost backing vocals and additional verses. To be fair, the best vocal harmonies and most skilled playing is for naught without great songs. And in the case of the duo, they absolutely have the complete package.

As the room continued to fill, Gil and Dave casually and unassumingly walked on stage to everyone's delight. I really wish I had a setlist to report, but first, I have a terrible memory, especially after a couple of PBR's, and secondly I'm just not anal enough to take along a pen and paper and keep track. I do believe they opened with Orphan Girl though. Mesmerized by each song, I was struck by the realization that despite being one of the most successful traditional country and bluegrass acts, the pair are themselves humbled by the music. These songs aren't for selling records, though they do, they are to perpetuate a rich musical tradition. I've heard countless artists claim that they do what they do for the music, but I have never been as convinced as I was Thursday night. Two stringed instruments and two voices so perfectly tuned to the other that the sound was both rapturous and intimate at the exact same time.

Speaking of rapture, country and bluegrass music have deep roots in religion. As a person is quite cynical from unfortunately seeing far too many mega-churches, televangelists, and sermons that are merely citing of scripture, I have to admit that I was moved last night in a spiritual way that no church or sermon has ever been able to accomplish. Their was more spirituality in the Cannery last night over roughly 2 1/2 hours, than there will be in every church combined in the greater Nashville area come Sunday.

But back to the music. Highlights for me included a roaring version of I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll, the haunting Revelator and the delicate One Little Song. The spiritual By the Mark clearly held the room's full attention, while Look at Miss Ohio was a definite crowd-pleaser. I, myself, was pleasantly surprised by a couple of songs, I had previously little interest in. I was captivated by the fragile tenderness of Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor. Knuckleball Catcher, an unreleased newer-ish song I've heard only on bootleg recordings, completely caught me off guard and turned out to be one of the highlights of the night for me. Finally a couple of covers were prominently featured, the oft-covered Townes Van Zandt ballad Snowin' on Raton was a beautiful tribute to an amazing songwriter and inspiration. The night ended aptly with a fervent take on Jackson, a song made famous by the late Johnny and June Carter Cash that resonated throughout the room and had everyone singing and rocking till the very end. Honestly, whatever and however, I've rambled on cannot possibly do this pair justice. It was the most intimate feeling show I have ever attended, and I don't think I would have felt any different had it been held 200 miles East in Neyland Stadium (capacity 102,038).

Townes Van Zandt - Snowin' on Raton
Look at Miss Ohio
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - Knuckleball Catcher (2007-05-31 Town Hall New York NY)
Johnny Cash - Jackson (Folsom Prison Version)


Anonymous said...

I just went to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco and saw them perform- wow. Amazing show. I wish she had some more shows coming up, I'd travel 1,000 miles to hear them again.