Gillian Welch (& David Rawlings) – Still Brilliant!

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A Love Affair with Melbourne!

By Brian Wise. 

GILLIAN WELCH

PALAIS THEATRE, MELBOURNE – FRIDAY FEBRUARY 5 & SATURDAY

“I feel like we have started a love affair with Melbourne,” Gillian Welch confessed to an adoring audience on Saturday evening. It was her second show here for the weekend with her partner David Rawlings and by the end they probably wished they could bottle that adulation and take it everywhere with them.

There is definitely something special about the duo’s relationship with Melbourne and that goes back nearly twelve years to their first Australian tour when the audience in this city embraced them more enthusiastically than just about anywhere else in the world.

Their concerts in this city and, especially in the small Meeniyan Hall, a couple of hours from Melbourne, have become legendary. In that time, they have only released three albums: two from the Dave Rawlings Machine and Welch’s The Harrow and The Harvest, which provided eight of the songs for Friday and seven for the next night. We haven’t missed a whole lot of albums!

Indeed, when Welch and Rawlings arrived on stage on Friday night it was as if that long love affair had been rekindled with even more passion. The reasons for this passionate love affair could probably provide an essay in itself but, in essence, it is because across the nation audiences have recognised something special as soon as they have heard it. The music is simply timeless and outside any fads or fashions. And the love is not sparked by the image or the flashy shows because you could hardly find any two people less pretentious or showy.

As soon as Rawlings strummed the guitar on the opening song ‘Scarlet Town’ there were cheers. He had confessed in an interview to being a little nervous about the first show. The bar had been set very high, he said, and there were so many hard core fans there that he didn’t want to let them down. He need not have worried! The feeling of expectation in the room was palpable. When the music began there was almost an audible sigh of relief from fans who had waited more than a decade.

With no more than a couple of acoustic guitars and a banjo the duo kept audiences enthralled for the best part of two hours (plus an interval). There are few acoustic acts anywhere who can achieve that with such grace and ease.

“You’re a real banjo town, aren’t you?” joked Welch as she put down her guitar and picked up the instrument for ‘Rock of Ages’. “They’re talking about you.” The banter continued through the shows: about their drive across the Nullabor and the absence of kangaroos out on the highway,

Of course, Welch’s voice is a stunning instrument in itself – so pure and emotive. On songs such as ‘The Way It Will Be’ or on ‘Time (The Revelator)’ she captures a feeling of resignation, on ‘Elvis Presley Blues’ she gently rocks and on ‘Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor’ (Saturday) she is a blues singer.

When Welch and Rawlings launch into ‘Six White Horses’ it becomes a hoedown with his flying fingers and her lifting her dress to stomp, ‘hambone’ (slapping her legs) or do a tap dance in her cowboy boots. Half way through each second set this brought the audience to their feet (as much as they were permitted at this theatre) and had them hollering loudly for more.

If Welch has an extraordinary voice it is made even more so by Rawlings’ delightful harmonies and his amazing guitar work. Somehow he has managed to forge his own distinctive style and no-one quite sounds like him (though plenty have been trying). As with Richard Thompson, Bill Frisell, Buddy Miller or Marc Ribot, you recognise Rawlings’ signature as soon as it is offered. Sometimes, it sounds as though there is extra guitarist up there on stage somewhere! Not only that, on Saturday evening he got to sing ‘Sweet Tooth,’ from the first Machine album (something that I hope would have helped ticket sales to his show here in two weeks).

If both sets were satisfying, it was in the encores that the true musical excitement arrived. Having seen them last September in Nashville during Americana I knew what to expect during the shows, as it was basically the same set list. But the encores, now they were something to savour.

The encores Friday included ‘Look at ‘Miss Ohio,’ ‘Caleb Meyer,’ ’Dark Turn of Mind’, ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ ‘Jackson’ (the Johnny Cash, June Carter hit) and ‘Everything Is Free.’ But there were also some stunningly special moments.

On Friday they closed with a magificent version of Townes Van Zand’ts ‘Pancho & Lefty’ that brought tears to the eyes of quite a few. There are not many better versions of this classic apart from the original and those by Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson.

On Saturday they played a haunting version of the Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ (without having to mention Paul Kantner and Signe Toly Anderson’s recent deaths).

Then they moved to the front of the stage, away from the microphones and sang ‘Long Black Veil.’ You could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. If they do not return for another twelve years that is a moment that people will remember until then.

In fact, both Gillian and David will be back in Melbourne in two weeks for shows with the Dave Rawlings Machine and the Dream A Highway extravaganza with the Machine band members at the cavernous Festival Hall.

I’m pretty sure the love affair will still be going strong! And for many years after that!

There are Gillian Welch shows in Sydney on Monday and Tuesday this week but I notice the Brisbane show at The Tivoli on Thursday is not sold out.

The Dave Rawlings Machine play Brisbane (12/2), Bangalow (13/2 & 14/2), Sydney (16/02), Canberra (17/02) and Melbourne (19/2). There are still tickets to both shows.

Dream A Highway is at Festival Hall, Melbourne, on Saturday February 20 and features Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings Machine, Willie Watson and Haas Kowert Tice.

SET LISTS

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 5

SET 1

Scarlet Town

Wayside/Back in Time

Rock of Ages

The Way It Will Be

The Way It Goes

I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll

Elvis Presley Blues

Orphan Girl

SET 2

Tennessee

Red Clay Halo

No One Knows My Name

Hard Times

Down Along the Dixie Line

Six White Horses

Time (The Revelator)

I Hear Them All

This Land Is Your Land
(Woody Guthrie cover)

Encore 1:

Look at Miss Ohio

Caleb Meyer

Encore 2:

Dark Turn of Mind

I’ll Fly Away
(Traditional)

Encore 3:

Jackson
(Johnny Cash cover)

Pancho and Lefty
(Townes Van Zandt cover)

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 6

Scarlet Town

Elvis Presley Blues

My First Lover

The Way It Will Be

The Way It Goes

Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor (traditional)

I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll

Annabelle

Wrecking Ball

Red Clay Halo

Set 2

Hard Times

Down Along the Dixie Line

Wayside/Back in Time

Six White Horses

Revelator

Sweet Tooth (Dave Rawlings Machine cover)

Tennessee

Caleb Meyer

Encore1 :

Look at Miss Ohio

Encore 2:

Everything Is Free

I’ll Fly Away (Traditional cover)

White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane cover)

Encore 3:

Long Black Veil (acoustic)

 

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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