Overheard while getting in line at the Rio Theatre for night two of the Rawlings Machine: "I don't know who the other guy is. His name is Rawlings. I hear he's good." What the what?!
Dave Rawlings Machine, Rio Theatre, March 25, 2009: Puhleeze don't act surprised to find this post or force me to reiterate all the goofy measures I've taken to catch David and Gillian. Besides, I'd been to the Rio previously to see Colin Meloy--this is practically my backyard. (It's not my backyard.)
However, it was no lazy day at the beach, and I had to jump through several hoops to make it to Santa Cruz at all. I had given up on the idea of arriving early enough to nab a primo spot, so I wasn't too disheartened to see the lengthy line of fans. Hey, I can't always be in front! And though I was a little disappointed to find that the show would be seated, that wasn't too surprising either. David and Gillian aren't exactly magnets for adoring teenage fans, and as it turned out, not a single hand-crocheted scarf change hands between audience and artist this evening.
I'm not sure what I expected of this gig, but I can tell you what I ultimately got: a musical performance, pure and simple. It wasn't the David and Gillian Variety Hour at Largo, featuring a steady stream of friends, nor was the audience interaction as prominent as the night before in San Francisco. Instead, we listened as David and Gillian did what they do best, with a minimum of distractions.
In the spotlight, Dave and Gillian veritably shone on several tracks, such as their own "Throw Me a Rope," their cover of "Turn Your Radio On," and Gillian's solo banjo number "Fly On." Dave threw himself so completely into "I Hear Them All" and "Big Rock Candy Mountain" that I wondered if he'd find a way out of the solos. I suspect he took a slightly more circuitous route to the Woody Guthrie section of the former, but he eventually hit that mark.
My favorite number of the night remained "Knuckleball Catcher." For one thing, I'm a sucker for music about listening to music (see also: "Sunken Treasure," "The Lonely 1," "Radio King," to name a few), so they have me on that count, but I just love how it takes the populist conceit of folk music to its very contemporary and even empowering conclusion ("a den mother can be a dashboard drummer"). And though my description sucks, the tune itself assuredly does not.
I've come to love that song for another reason: It's funny, and it lets Dave and Gillian be funny, especially in the closing duel of "do do do"s. Certainly, they've let down their hair at Largo, usually with some prodding from Jon Brion, but this may have been the loosest and most charming I've yet seen them at their own show. They took a similar approach with "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)," trading escalating falsettos before thrashing out the song's coda. Gillian, especially, warmed up to bantering, joking about the drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, sharing the sights they saw on the way, and making oblique references to Magritte. Maybe it had something to do with being back in her old stomping grounds; maybe it was something in the water. (Maybe I should just shut up and enjoy it.)
For the encore, Mike McKinley joined them again for some serious bluegrass action. The "Hot Corn Cold Corn"/"He Will Set Your Field on Fire" sequence made me (1) realize how much of their influences and repertoire remains unknown to me, and (2) marvel at how they could turn on the twang so heavily and so readily after merely hinting at these abilities during the main set.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the garrulous old Deadhead sitting next to me who delighted in their entire set--not just the Dylan, Dead, and Neil Young covers, but the Cyndi Lauper closer too. Kudos to him for keeping Santa Cruz weird.
p.s. The torrent is up!
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