Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Photo: Paxton X
When I first found out about this event, I’d never heard of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, at least I thought I hadn’t. A quick peruse of the Internet revealed Welch’s work with “I’ll Fly Away” and “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby” on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, which happened to be one of my favorite CDs back in the day. Even though I’m not a fan of the new country, I love the old stuff, and that’s all these two seem to play. You kids that attend Bonnaroo have probably come across Welch and Rawlings before, but perhaps you were just too high to remember their names. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.
Now, I don’t go to events at Kingsbury Hall very often, which is why I sometimes forget what a damn treat it is to see a show there. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it; even with the simplest performances, it’s a beautiful venue. I parked at Rice-Eccles Stadium and took the shuttle over (What? You try and find parking at the U). The driver was a little chatty and the brakes were noisy as fuck, but these are the prices we pay for free parking.
I came inside, found my seat inside the packed hall and had only a moment’s wait before Welch and Rawlings took the stage. Rawlings is thin with a beard and hair that changes more often than seems natural, but here he was freshly shaven with hair just long enough to cover his ears under a good-looking cowboy hat. He had on a slim gray suit with a bolo tie and looked like a young Randy Travis. Welch was wearing a dark blue sundress and cowgirl boots that went well with her shoulder-length red hair and cream-colored skin. They open with “Orphan Girl,” a song from Welch’s first album, Revival, and from the get go it was just them and their guitars up on stage. Some white lights aimed at the back wall and some red and yellow lights aimed at Welch and Rawlings gave off a cathedral feel, as if they were standing in front of enormous stained glass windows with the last light of day streaming in. The ambiance of Kingsbury Hall only amplified the effect. Rawlings held his golden brown guitar like a rifle from the hip, and played it with the intense passion of a lover. Welch strummed her guitar with a well-trained hand, but you could tell she meant business whenever she hunched over it and started rockin’. They played a few songs and then welcome everyone to the show with, “Thanks for choosing us over the Dew Tour!”
The interesting thing about these two is how they don’t sound like two people when they’re singing: they sound like one voice. They achieve such a perfect harmony, it’s almost eerie. Another interesting aspect of this is how soft Rawlings’ voice is compared to how strong Welch sings. It made the Feminist in me happy to say the least.
After moving through “Scarlet Town,” “The Way It Will Be” and “The Way It Goes,” all off their latest album, Welch dove back into some of the older songs from Time (The Revelator), her third album back from 2001. This included “Elvis Presley Blues,” one of the greatest tributes to The King I’ve ever heard. The wobbling swagger Rawlings goes into while he plays is almost hypnotizing. Then, just before taking a little intermission break, they played a fabulous cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star.” (If you haven’t devoted a decent slice of your life in listening to Radiohead’s The Bends album from 1995, no one will take you seriously, ever). The vocal harmonies and Rawlings’ incredible guitar playing would have surely brought Thom Yorke some happiness.
During the break, I walked amongst the crowds in the lobby to fight my way to the restroom, and the incredible range in the ages of the people at the show surprised me. From early 20s to late 70s, it seems everyone enjoys good music. After the break, Welch and Rawlings began to travel back and forth in time through old songs and new. Welch broke out the harmonica and banjo, which Rawlings called, “Two instruments of questionable intonation, and taste.” The banjo/harmonica action was particularly incredible during “No One Knows My Name.” Then, during “Six White Horses,” Welch broke out some knee slapping and clogging that got the whole audience keyed up and clapping along, but not nearly as much as when Rawlings sung through a combination of “I Hear Them All” and “This Land Is Your Land,” which turned everyone into a fucking patriotic frenzy. After repeated mutterings throughout the evening of “God damn, he can play,” “Vocal harmony, holy shit…” and “Fuck me, that’s some good guitar,” I was officially a fan.
Welch and Rawlings came back out for an encore and made me happy by playing “I’ll Fly Away.” They even came out again for a second encore. (That’s right, kids, good bands not only play encores, they play multiple encores). Welch led into “The Way The Whole Thing Ends” from their latest album and they finished off the night with a cover of “Jackson,” a song made famous by June Carter and Johnny Cash.
Since Welch and Rawlings played nine of the 10 songs from their new CD, The Harrow & The Harvest, I can tell you it’s super awesome. It’s their first release in over eight years, and it’s clear they’ve been saving up the talent on this one. Since it was released back on June 28, you can be sure to find it in stock at whatever local music shop fits your fancy. Now get off your ass and go listen to some damn fine harmony.