Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings are two pillars of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, so it's no surprise when they show up on the schedule and/or announce a show close to the date. Often, it's both, as was the case this year.
Dave Rawlings Machine, the Fillmore, Sept. 30, 2016: In the early days of the Dave Rawlings Machine, a lot of people simply assumed it was a Gillian Welch show under another name. Fortunately, expectations have changed, now that the Rawlings Machine has a discography and everything. The group also seems to have found a steady lineup, which is probably a good development for any band's continued growth. I enjoyed the spare, early shows as much as anyone, but I appreciate the growing differentiation between the projects.
Last time I saw the Rawlings Machine, the new record had recently come out, but with about a year since that show, the band had revised the setlist somewhat. We got a number of album tracks ("The Weekend," "Pilgrim," "Sweet Tooth"), as well as a few spotlights for Gillian ("Wayside/Back in Time," "Miss Ohio") and Willie Watson ("Keep It Clean"). Bassist Paul Kowert (also seen in Punch Brothers) and his deep bass tones even got a turn on the mic for "He Will Set Your Fields on Fire," which I've come to love in all its twangy glory. I should also mention they hit "Queen Jane Approximately" earlier in the show, and I totally clapped my hands and squealed when I recognized the song. However, they threw in a bunch of songs I didn't recognize at all, and I don't know if they were new tunes or traditional titles. With the Rawlings Machine, it can be very hard to tell.
As it was Hardly Strictly weekend, there was some question of which guests would drop in. One was fairly obvious from the beginning, and it happens, it was the only guest I wanted to see: Robyn Hitchcock, who had a couple of appearances scheduled at the festival.
It finally hit me this umpteenth time I've seen Robyn appear as a guest: maybe he's the dominant through line of my musical fandom? He ties my early love of British music to my current preference for folksier artists. Little did I know that the Soft Boys influenced such American bands as REM, Uncle Tupelo, and more. By the same token, I had no idea Robyn was steeped in Roxy Music, though that probably should've been a no-brainer for any UK musician of the time. Anyway, that's oversimplifying several decades of music fandom, but I can't resist the urge to trace a pattern.
With Robyn, they did "Goin' to Acapulco" and "The Weight," which were great but strangely anticlimatic compared to other amazing songs I've seen them do together.
The core crew closed out with the perennial "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby," all five of them gathered around the microphone. The classic formation, at least since they recorded it for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, usually incorporates female voices, but Dave and Gill have been able to adapt it to the singers around them. It's always a vision, as they all come together with nothing but their voices ringing out and their bodies (hands, feet) for percussion.
I hope they continue to grace us with their annual visits.
» that's all they really want
» pretty please with sugar on top