Monday, March 09, 2009

cortez, cortez

I admit I went a little overboard with the Largo excursions in December and January--the center could not hold. Reality returned (somewhat) in February, and I'll likely have to stick to these self-imposed limits for the foreseeable future. On the bright side, what I lose in quantity, I gain in quality, thanks to the continuing string of Rawlings Machine shows.

Dave Rawlings Machine, Largo at the Coronet, March 5, 2009: My manias are not a mystery--those tag clouds on the right of the page have me pegged. But in case you haven't noticed, it's happening again: Intrigue is turning into infatuation. I'm talking, of course, about the Rawlings Machine. They sure make it easy to decide which weekends I should fly down (and double my disgruntlement when I can't be there).

Despite their mild protests about the lack of preparation and problems with pacing, Dave and Gillian took to the stage with an evident ease and an uptick in confidence compared to their early shows at Largo. They fell short of a swagger, and I doubt that Dave and Gillian will ever be able to take their act to Vegas--or Branson, Missouri, for that matter--but actually, that's not a bad thing.

They handled the first five songs of the show by themselves. I took it as a good sign the look of surprise that flitted across Gillian's face on their second track; she later explained that she didn't expect it so early in the set, and it confirms for me that they haven't fallen into rote recitation.

To these ears, the highlight of this section was "Knuckleball Catcher." Though I've heard this song at each of their performances, there was something about the fierce arrangement and their peerless harmonizing that leapt out at me this time. The sly rhymes of that last verse ("some hard liquor can make a guitar picker out of you"), especially, has been on my brain for days; nor does it hurt that the intro reminds me a little of their version of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."

From there, the guest appearances commenced. The first musician plucked from the sidelines--not quite literally, though Dave did march over to the curtains, still bearing his guitar, and pointed at the performer in question--was a true legend: John Paul Jones. I've seen him only once before, but you could hazard a guess that his ties to Largo have further deepened in the last year. Not only has he produced Sara Watkins' solo album, he's previously played with Gillian and Dave as well. This familiarity showed; looking pretty relaxed himself, John Paul Jones contributed mandolin and harmonies to "I Hear Them All," to David and Gillian's delight, and stuck around for more.

I didn't take notes this time, so the details start to blur, but I recall that Sara and Sean Watkins, as well as Sebastian Steinberg and Benmont Tench, piled in for a number of songs, mostly traditional numbers that Gillian later explained qualified as the dance music of its day. And though they had their own gig scheduled for the Little Room that night, Sara and Sean seemed reluctant to leave. In fact, we spied the duo watching from the shadows later in the set, though their own show should've been under way by then.

It's obvious to me that Largo has opened up Dave and Gillian as performers, but the duo has, in turn, opened up Largo to a new set of artists--especially on the younger, hipper end of the spectrum. Tonight, that meant we saw "Z" Berg from the Like, Morgan Nagler with her signature tune, and--drum roll, please--Jenny Lewis, returning for another short spin. This time, she sang "Silver Lining" from the last Rilo Kiley album, but from our seats, we could see that she stuck around for the rest of the set, dancing and just plain enjoying the festivities.

Following Jenny's turn, my wish came true about halfway through "Ruby," when Jon Brion sauntered over and fell right in to the swing of things. Dave and Gillian have been dropping in on Jon's set for a good few months now, so I was happy to see him return the favor on the big stage.

Dave and Gillian remained, by default, the leaders, but only nominally, urging Benmont, Jon, and John Paul Jones to work their magic as well. They peaked with a phenomenal segue from Bright Eyes to "Cortez the Killer"; it hits me between the eyes every time.

Even "White Rabbit" couldn't top that; I blame the lack of reverb, despite Gillian and Dave's request for more. Still, I loved watching Benmont and Jon add their low-tech effects to the tune (Benmont, plucking at the piano strings; Jon going for a doppler-type effect with the guitar and mic). And the fact that Gillian forgot some of the lyrics was more charming than distracting as well. Closing out the set, Gillian ran to fetch a lyric sheet before they brought out Z Berg again for an a cappella selection, gathered around the omnidirectional mic.

But the night wasn't over! Gillian herself had announced from the stage their plans to infiltrate Sean and Sara's show in the Little Room. We took her up on that hot tip--and were treated to another hour-plus of music with most of the same personnel from the big room, minus the East Siders.

Sara somewhat apologized for the disorganized air; she explained that they were so used to rehearsing with each other that they didn't really know how to switch gears in front of people. I hope she realizes that's exactly what we love about these gigs; it's the closest we get to being flies on the wall, taking in our favorite artists.

I barely know what they played, partly because I didn't take any notes and partly because their traditional selections frequently escape me. However, I caught Sara and Sean's more contemporary covers ("No Surprises," "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get," "Pink Triangle"), as well as Benmont's comedy screeches on "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," and even I recognized Dylan's "Forever Young."

I feel like the boy who cried wolf; after naming "Cortez the Killer" and "Knuckleball Catcher" as two high points of the evening, I'm going to cite one more event. Toward the end of the show, the musicians decided to treat us (and, most likely, themselves) with "the greatest song ever," only no one knew the crucial "recitation." However, someone's iPhone was co-opted (amid several jokes about Flanny busting them for it), and Sean Watkins set about tracking down this mysterious track. Modern technology, being what it is, was less than cooperative at first, so to help pass the time, Dave and Gillian performed a little do-si-do on the tiny stage, already packed with five other people. Finally, Sean wrangled the lines and offered himself as the human teleprompter for Joe Tex's "Hold What You Got," featuring a couple of hearty soliloquys by David and Gillian. Extra points also go to David for his thespian flair.

See also:
» you got a lotta nerve
» hear them all


BeeKay said...

"An argument with David Rawlings concerning Morrissey" came up on my iTunes the other night.

pneyu said...

I want to request "Suedehead" so bad.

ms. yvon said...

"and, you WOMEN!..."
dave's take on the joe tex recitation was hysterical.

you know, i whined about their not touring for so long i am embarrassed at the bounty of shows they are playing here. not so embarrassed that i want them to move on, you understand...

pneyu said...

Wait, do you mean "move on" as in release a new album or "move on" as in get out of town and play in the city where I live? :-o Fate hangs in the balance!