Review of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings at The Civic Theater August 19, 2018.


Erinn Beth Langille, Copy Editor

Before Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings began to play Sunday night August 19, the stage of the Civic Theater was bare, save for a worn out Persian rug and an old kitchen table. The lack of flashy lights or hip set design didn’t seem to bother the audience. Instead, it suited the show as they’d come for the songs. For the last 25 years, Welch has been building her audience on sparse and melancholic Americana music, with roots in folk, bluegrass, country and rock ‘n’ roll. Some call it Appalachian, though Welch herself grew up in New York City and California. The location may be adopted, but the music is just as affecting as if she’d grown up in a hollow.

When the two arrived on stage they were decked out the cowboy boots and Western wear and hit the crowd with “Scarlet Town,” off of the 2011 album “The Harrow and the Harvest.” They then moved into the classic “Rock of Ages” from Welch’s second album “Hell Among The Yearlings” (1998). The set was composed of songs from all their albums, and they hopped around stylistically from slower mournful tunes to the more raucous and upbeat, like “Midnight Train,” a song off the 2017 David Rawlings solo record “Poor David’s Almanack.”

As both a musical and romantic partnership, Welch and Rawlings play to their strengths. His vocals stayed in the background to let her lead, and served to highlight her unique range, which is both sweet and yodely. Her rhythm guitar, banjo and boot stomping provided the perfect beat and melody for Rawlings’ continuous guitar solos, this rhythm that circles her melodic cords the entire time. The pair is still having a lot of fun after all these years, and it was a joy to watch.

The complex picking and guitar styles of Dave Rawlings was magical, and at times through the night he astonished the audience with slides and turns in the melodies that was nearly virtuosic. He stands in one place, his feet close together and barely tapping, holding a remarkably small archtop guitar that he plays with a fever. As he plays, the rhythm of each song moves up into his body, getting looser and more animated until it reaches his head, rolling and bobbing on his neck, reminiscent of a tightly wound tornado, or spinning top. A highlight was the amazing finger work on “Down Long the Dixie Line,” where a turn of notes elicited gasps from the crowd. It was an elongated and sped up interpretation from the studio version off the album, and the pace brought a fresh energy and meaning to the song.

Welch’s body language was more contained; that is, until the spirit moved her, and then, as she did during a guitar solo during the song “Six White Horses”, she moved to the front of the stage and did a little white lightning dance (a clogging step).  She shyly smiled and crooned her way through the most heartbreaking of songs, like the title track from “Time (The Revelator)” of 2001 and “One Little Song” off the 2003 album “Soul Journey.”

Those unfamiliar with Gillian Welch may remember her through her musical contributions to the 2000 Coen Brothers film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” She sang the soundtrack hit “I’ll Fly Away” as part of this show’s encore, as well as her own songs “Look at Miss Ohio” and the sorrowful “Everything is Free.” Those who have followed Gillian Welch’s career and made it out on Sunday got a great show, full of old gems and reinterpretations. By the end of the night the crowd was singing along and clapping in time to the music, as if treated to porch songs in an Appalachia hollow.