Dave Rawlings, the Fillmore, March 1, 2018I'm officially at the point where I've seen Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch so much that I can no longer recall who headlined at the latest show I attended. Of course, this comes with a couple of caveats: (1) That may be my middle-age senility setting in, and (2) A surfeit of Gill and Dave is a nice problem to have.
The latest Dave Rawlings record got me thinking about how much this band, outfit, arrangement, what have you has evolved over the years. After listening to so many spare, stripped Gillian Welch albums, as well as Dave's naturalistic works, you can hear the more modern production on Poor David's Almanack. "Cumberland Gap," in particular, jumps out at me -- the keyboard, especially. Dave and Gill trading verses sent my mind to Fleetwood Mac, though friends cited "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.
This, in turn, led me to reflect on the growth of Dave Rawlings as a frontman. I imagine Dave played plenty of gigs around Nashville when he and Gill were starting out, but I don't think he truly embarked on his own until the last decade or so. I'll brag about this to my dying day, but I was extremely fortunate to have caught Dave and Gill so often when they played Largo regularly at both the old and new locations. Many of those gigs were under Dave's name, so I've been able to witness his act develop and his catalog grow.
Those Largo shows were special, but their visit to the Great American Music Hall on what was probably the first true tour under Dave's name also stands out. We were giddy that night, as San Francisco poured out its long-established love for Gillian Welch onto David. I can still feel the joy streaming from both the performers and the audience.
Obviously, there have been many shows between then and now, but as they took the stage this night, they seemed like a true band for the first time in my memory. The setup is still pretty sparse, with no drum kit or even amps, but heck, Gillian and violinist Brittany Haas wore dresses in matching fabric!
They opened with a rollicking "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" from Bob Dylan, and as you can imagine, the crowd ate it up. In my opinion, the first half of the show was oddly paced, partly because they don't exactly excel in onstage banter and partly due to song selection. They went with mostly tracks from the new record, but threw in Gill's "Wayside/Back in Time" for the local angle.
They took their usual intermission, and the pace seemed to pick up during the second half, though to their credit, I haven't shared much of their funnier moments. For example, Gill revealed to us that she had slashed her finger just before the show and was relying on glue to keep the bleeding at bay. Also, both Willie Watson and Gill worked a small set of bongo drums for separate songs, and Willie did a few tunes too.
"Miss Ohio" got its obligatory turn during the second set, but believe it or not, it wasn't the highlight. Instead, it was a song from Old Crow Medicine Show ("Hear Them All") married to the Woody Guthrie classic "This Land Is Your Land," and let me tell you -- it feels like we need that song more than ever these days. No one had to say anything else; our voices singing together did all the talking. Another fun moment from the second set: the aforementioned Brittany Haas trading in her violin for a guitar (on a song whose name I can't remember). Guess what? She was really good. Also, Dave at one point played electric guitar, which never happens at Gill's shows.
But they truly saved the best for last, as they tore through an encore sequence that included a Radiohead cover ("Black Star"), another Dylan cover ("Queen Jane Approximately"), and a Bright Eyes/Neil Young medley ("Method Acting"/"Cortez the Killer"). The last two songs were especially punishing, and for the umpteenth time, I marveled at how they wrench so much tension from that Dylan track. For the third and final encore, they went into a five-person version of "Go to Sleep You Little Baby" (a first for me), and we thought it was over -- but no! They brought back "Jack of Hearts" to bring it full circle.
Dave looked exhausted as they truly bade us good night, for good reason. I hope our cheers and applause let him know that we appreciated every ounce of sweat he poured out onstage.
And finally, one more memory of the night I'd like to share. See you again soon!
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