Logic would dictate that after two back-to-back Dave Rawlings Machine shows, I should be able to cool my jets, listen to the recording of at least one of the gigs, and bask in the memories. Logic, though usually my friend, can take a hike when it comes to Largo.
Dave Rawlings Machine, Largo at the Coronet, March 31, 2009: I'm not one for regret, but I feel some pangs when it comes to certain eras at Largo. I would've loved to have seen Jon Brion and Aimee Mann when they were still playing together, and I wish I had witnessed Elliott Smith actually performing at the club and not just taking in the entertainment.
I thank my lucky stars, though, that I've been able to rack up several installments of the Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch residency (and pre-residency) at Largo. The rumors that this would be the last Dave Rawlings Machine show in a while may or may not turn out to be true, but to borrow a sentiment from a wise man, you have to live every week like it's Shark Week.
My most recent posts may have cast Largo in a diminished light, but the evidence must speak for itself by now--there are few other places I'd rather be. I was reminded of this almost as soon as the music started, and those perfect notes hit my ears. Simply, Dave and Gillian sounded even more amazing than usual in this room. And on a more frivolous note, they looked great too, David donning what looked like a different suit and Gillian in a pretty flowered dress (albeit with the same tattered boots). If this was indeed their send-off, they were proceeding in style. They were in extremely good spirits, too, smiling and joking (about John Hartford, for starters) with the packed house.
With their two Northern California shows still very much on my mind, I wondered if they'd stick with the roadshow version of their set or encourage those patented only-at-Largo moments. As it turned out, it was a little bit of both. Clearly, they have a repertoire and a basic setlist, but that's not to say it's all rote repetition. Instead, it was just the two of them for a good stretch--eight or nine songs? Maybe more? In this opening run, they surprised me with a Guthrie-free version of "I Hear Them All" and an early stab at "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
Ultimately, "Sweet Tooth" smoked out their friends. Dave and Gillian could be seen sending a series of wordless signals toward the shadows until, first, Sebastian Steinberg joined them, bringing along his stand-up bass, and eventually Benmont Tench ambled on as well.
By all appearances, Dave and Gillian have taken to the Largo ethos pretty well, but their awkward transitions between guests still need some work. Then again, it is rather endearing to watch them pause, look to the side of the stage, often march over there (without removing their instruments and leaving the other musicians to kill time onstage awkwardly), then finally come back with a decision.
Tonight's soft shoe routine yielded Syd Straw, who proclaimed herself the "comic relief" as she untangled herself from her purse and jacket. Moments after she took her place, Don Heffington followed, thus filling out the '80s-era pre-alt.country juggernaut. Twenty-odd years ago, I read their names in Star Hits, but I never could've predicted that I'd see them in this company in the year 2009.
Syd shared an anecdote about walking into Benmont's living room to find Dave and Gillian there, and she gushed that she wanted to move in with them--and I'm sure she wasn't alone in that last thought. She played a song whose name escapes me; she said it was a sing-along, and it certainly had a catchy lilt to it, but it didn't sound like the audience caught on. But we didn't need to, as Dave and Gillian provided the support.
Sometimes you watch musicians play, and you suddenly realize why they do what they do (and why you do what you do). My guess is that Dave and Gillian were not familiar with this song at the outset, as they watched Syd intently to pick up on the chords and rhythm. But once those clues fell into place, they filled in the details themselves, with an embellished strum here and, more notably, some sweet, lovely harmonies elsewhere. And that is how music is made.
Syd left after one song, though Don stayed, and more guests joined, including Harper Simon for "Only Love Will Break Your Heart," Sean Watkins for "I'm On My Way Back to the Old Home," Nate Walcott, Willie Watson (for two songs whose names I can't recall), and "Z" Berg for "Blue Velvet." Dave and Gillian were especially delightful on that last one, turning in sublime harmonies in a style you wouldn't necessarily associate with them. Then again, voices like theirs transcend genres.
Jon Brion was the last guest to join in, his late appearance moving them to wonder where he'd been. He quipped that they sounded so good anyway. Naturally, Jon's participation inspired the "Method Acting"/"Cortez the Killer" medley. If my brain weren't so taxed from the last week of work, travel, and the insomnia related to both, I'd tell you what else he played on, but unfortunately, I can't fill in that info. However, I'm pretty sure I can report that the last song was "Queen Jane Approximately," ending on an awesomely grand note.
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