Before I get started, a warning: If you're looking for anything approaching a change of pace in this blog, don't come back until next month. It's going to look a lot like Groundhog Day around here for the next few weeks, and kicking off this coming chorus is the Dave Rawlings Machine with a show at the Mystic Theatre.
Dave Rawlings Machine, Mystic Theatre, February 8, 2010: Years ago, when a British friend tried to disabuse me of my love for a certain U.K band, he based his appeal on the fact that the group came from Birmingham, aka the Midlands, aka the English equivalent of flyover country. In other words, they had funny accents. I brushed off his slander and informed him that some of my favorite cousins, when they first arrived in the United States, also settled in Birmingham--Alabama, that is. No stigma there!
I remembered this story when I realized that this blog has taken on a discernible bent recently. You see, my family originally settled in Louisville, Kentucky, when we arrived in the States--you know, bluegrass country. So it makes perfect sense that I'm lining up to see the Dave Rawlings Machine again, right?
I don't buy it either, but fortunately, the artists--by virtue of being so damn good--provide all the cover I need. Besides, this isn't exactly the same Rawlings Machine I last saw in April. For one thing, their album Friend of a Friend has come out, and they've gathered a few members of the Old Crow Medicine Show for their nationwide tour. It would've been enough to hear some of the songs they've kept secret and to take in the new arrangements on the more familiar titles, but even though I've seen the Rawlings Machine more times than I can name, Dave and Gillian's music jumped to another level with this assemblage of talent.
In short, they had a real band now, and with them they brought multipart harmonies, reworked arrangements, double teams on both harmonica and fiddle, expanded bridges, new solos, and in the case of "Sweet Tooth," a little choreographed dance routine. If I had to cite any one aspect of Dave and Gillian's talent as their ultimate strength, I'd point to their vocals, but their already solid standing got another boost with the melding of Willie Watson's and Ketch Secor's voices.
I've discovered that no Rawlings Machine gig would be complete without someone pining for a secret Gillian Welch show, and this appearance was no different. Take, for example, this classic statement I overheard while waiting in line to get into the theater: "I like him, but I'm really here for her." Sigh.
What can you do, right? I hope that the aforementioned patron came away with some appreciation for the duo as a whole and maybe an understanding of how they complement each other. Barring that, I'll assume he enjoyed Gillian's turn in the spotlight with "No One Knows My Name" and "Look at Miss Ohio," the latter reworked to take advantage of all the singers onstage and to highlight what may be the best refrain in a song full of quotables.
Dave and Gillian's string of shows at Largo over the last year-plus has never lacked in appearances by their coterie of musical friends, and the same can be said of their Bay Area concerts. The guest tonight was Peter Rowan, who joined them for several tunes, including a Grateful Dead mini medley and the bulk of the encore.
Often, Dave and Gillian's choice of covers mystifies me, simply because they draw so deep from the American songbook and frequently in expanses that are completely foreign to me. Imagine my relief, then, when I noticed Peter Rowan shaking his head in admiration and, perhaps, respect in reaction to Dave's suggestion for a cover--"Walls of Time," I believe. If even a veteran musician can be daunted by Dave and Gillian's mastery, there's hope for the rest of us yet.
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