I hope no one was holding their breath after the last Rawlings Machine show at Largo; that would've been a long, asphyxiating three-plus months between gigs. But the duo has returned to Los Angeles, with one crucial variation: They were operating under the Gillian Welch moniker, with all the fanfare that such an occasion entails.
Gillian Welch, Largo at the Coronet, July 16, 2009: For those playing along at home, this marks my very first Gillian Welch show; my purist predilections forbid me from counting all those other performances I've seen at Largo as Gillian gigs. If you find that distinction needlessly arbitrary, you probably won't want to know how I organize my music collection either.
Despite my rookie status, I knew not to expect the Rawlings Machine, and as much as I loved those shows, especially the gigs closer to home, I was ready for another perspective. On that count, Gillian and David did not disappoint.
If I had to single out one factor that differentiated this show from the previous Rawlings Machine outings, it would have to be the patina of professionalism on the proceedings. Not that they're going to take their act to Branson any time soon, but they appeared to at least consult a setlist and Gillian even launched several great quips. The highlight had to be her Oscar-worthy performance as the bikini-clad woman sitting atop her boyfriend's shoulders at Bonnaroo and flashing the musicians--she didn't act out that part--all to the accompaniment of "Look at Miss Ohio."
It didn't hurt that they opened with "I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll"--for my money, the absolute best example from their catalog of their harmonizing--or that they hit so many songs from Time (The Revelator), including the title track, my current go-to tune. Though the previous week's show included several new songs, the only one they reprised was "It's Too Easy," featuring Gillian on vocals, and her rich timbre took the song in a whole other direction separate from David's reading.
This being Largo, all sorts of friends joined them, though only after a generous run by the duo--so that they could "rehearse," Gillian claimed. After a short break, Gillian and David came back for their second set and brought out Benmont Tench and Morgan Nagler for, of course, "Sweet Tooth."
John Paul Jones was next, lending mandolin and harmonies to "Wayside/Back in Time." They kept him onstage for the rest of the show, as Sara and Sean Watkins, then Jon Brion emerged for the remainder of the set. The supergroup kicked off with what they called their "theme song," which turned out to be a delightful version of "Hot Corn Cold Corn," though with slightly less spit and twang than Gillian and David unleash on their own. We thought "Caleb Meyer" would be the final song, until the musicians tramped back out, playing their instruments, Von Trapp-style.
Not long after, we convened in the Little Room for what Click and Clack would call the third half of the evening and what could be considered an unofficial Watkins Family Hour. Many of the principals from the earlier show dropped in, but they welcomed some new faces, such as Tom "Bruiser" Brousseau on an Everly Brothers tune and Fiona Apple on a few songs.
Dave Rawlings' guitar bowed before he did, as he handed it off midsong to Jon, and there was the matter of Gillian and Fiona making their introductions to one another onstage. Dave and Gillian eventually stepped up for the final number, "The Pines," and took over the second verse. Of course, Gillian and Dave enjoy more than a decade of singing and playing together, but there was no doubt in my mind who turned in the best rendition.
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