Often I could use a concert, but there are times when I need a gig. David Rawlings and Gillian Welch could've chased my week's worth of exasperation away on a comb and a kazoo, but to no one's surprise, they far surpassed those expectations.
Dave Rawlings Machine, Largo at the Coronet, February 5, 2009: Now that David Rawlings and Gillian Welch have established an intermittent residency at Largo, I'm less anxious about missing opportunities to see them. For example, I managed to limit my twitching to a mere hour or so last week when I knew they were scheduled for a late show in the Little Room.
I'll need to amp up those reminders that I've seen David and Gillian plenty and that there's a decent amount of repeats in their shows--because their gig tonight immediately forced me to eat my words. In the first half-dozen songs, we got maybe four perennials before the show settled into a set favoring less familiar tracks from their deep repertoire. Thanks a lot, guys!
But ultimately, I'm a glass-half-full girl, and I realize the fluidity of their sets is a sign that they're finding their bearings and growing ever more confident at Largo. Not only that, they're also extending the umbrella to a passel of new faces we might not have otherwise seen at the Coronet, while simultaneously retaining the support of many Largo regulars. I believe that, once upon a time, this was how musicians grew their reputation and their talent. Have you heard of such a thing?
Among these newer colleagues was trumpeter Nate Walcott, enlisted for a song that was technically off limits for the Rawlings Machine: "My Morphine," featuring Gillian on vocals. The trumpet's tones took to this ode to opium immediately; I think Chet Baker would've approved.
Nate stayed for much of the rest of the set, and soon after, Morgan Nagler came on for "Sweet Tooth," as she has for all the Rawlings Machine shows at Largo. However, her role expanded as well. For starters, the rest of the gang--Don Heffington, Sebastian Steinberg, and Benmont Tench--ambled on to back her for Whispertown2000's "Time Will Welcome Anything."
Their next move was less seamless, as they worked out what song to take on (Benmont was especially resolute in his recommendation) and brought out another guest: Mike Campbell, aka Benmont's bandmate and fellow Heartbreaker--as in "Tom Petty and the." Benmont's insistence proved fruitful--and well-founded--as Morgan warbled "Brand New Key," the '70s hit. It was an inspired choice, and Morgan hit it out of the park.
Morgan exited the stage, but nearly everyone else remained, leaving Mike Campbell as the rookie of this group. He wore that game yet reserved look often seen on Largo newbies, no matter what their actual talents, and slowly eased in, whipping up solos on the acoustic guitar, whether or not he originally knew the tune. He didn't exactly appear anxious to relive the experience, but it was a good start.
Benmont prodded them into "Deep River Blues" while Gillian was tuning her guitar for her other number of the night--"Look at Miss Ohio," the duo's hit single. After we caught our breath on the heels of that masterpiece, the main set roared to a close, in the form of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and what I'd wanted to request all night, "Jackson."
My rote cataloging doesn't do the performance any justice, though. Days later, I can't stop thinking about "Look at Miss Ohio" and "Jackson." Clearly, they both have their charms--the former, its exquisite narrative; the latter, its instant lift--but in the context of this show, I'm still in awe of the very different ways they brought out David and Gillian's voices.
For instance, there were points in "Look at Miss Ohio" where I couldn't get over how beautifully their vocals melded--and how many bombshells hide in plain sight among those lyrics. Does it even qualify as harmony when two singers are so perfectly matched?
"Jackson," of course, is not known for its subtlety; then again, that's exactly its appeal. I just loved the hootin', the hollerin', the back and forth, and the un-folk-like moves it elicited from the duo: Gillian's little fanning motion and David's rock-and-roll hop. Hotter than a pepper sprout, indeed.
They once more concluded with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," a sure crowd-pleaser, even if David forgot a verse (which Gillian immediately forced him to redo). If I may be so bold, I'd like to offer one suggestion: They should bring out Morgan for this tune. It's not so far removed from "Brand New Key," give or take a decade.
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» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg
» used to be one of the rotten ones
» that's all they really want