Gillian Welch - Majestic Theatre - 6/9/12
Saturday, June 9
In this week's paper, Gillian Welch let us know what the live show might be like, when she described her recording process to us.
"My favorite sound on Earth is the sound of voices and instruments combining in the air. We let it all combine naturally in the air, and I believe it does have an impact on the human ear and the human soul."
While such a description seemed too basic on paper, in the live setting, Welch's performance was genuinely a magnificent, natural act, which utilized the formula and indeed impacted the souls of those in the packed theater Saturday night.
Welch and her bandmate David Rawlings shared four instruments (two acoustic guitars, a banjo and a harmonica), zero light-show theatrics and two mismatched glasses of water for refreshment. So many bands that typically rely on plugged-in fervor will occasionally bust out the random "special acoustic set," but with Welch and Rawlings, every night is such an event.
Beginning at a few minutes past 8 p.m., the crowd of 30-somethings to 60-somethings took in the wonder of Welch's words, and perhaps even more so, the guitar mastery Rawlings displayed as the evening's two sets rolled on. A case could be made that his trademark 1935 Epiphone Olympic Archtop is the third member of the band.
Make no mistake: Rawlings is no one's sideman, and he's anything but a trusty sidekick who occasionally grabs a slice of the spotlight. He is most certainly an equal partner in a group that happens to record and tour under the name Gillian Welch.
"The Way It Goes," from last year's fantastic The Harrow and the Harvest, and "The Revelator" from landmark 2001 album Time (The Revelator), were two songs where anyone looking to make a folk version of Guitar Hero would've found material to be featured in their game. Simply put, Rawlings knows he too must put on a show, and he does so.
The harmonies Rawlings provided were as spot-on as his string work. While his is a high and lonesome voice, it provided the perfect backdrop for Welch's darkly angelic drawl, especially in the case of "Elvis Presley Blues." The laid back banter between the two performers was casual and genuine, and given the formal setting of the Majestic, the overall lack of pretense was refreshing.
While the setlist drew mainly from the aforementioned Harrow and Time, there was room for a couple of detours. "Look at Miss Ohio," from 2003's Soul Journey, showcased Welch's higher register and proved it might the most unfairly overlooked tune in her catalog. Also, a moving tribute to the duo's recently departed friend and hero, Doc Watson, in the form of a melancholy reworking of "Lay Me a Pallet on Your Floor," gave the audience yet another beautiful pairing.
While two encores were forcefully demanded, and the final number of the night was a fiery take on the Johnny Cash and June Carter classic "Jackson," it will be hard for anyone in attendance to argue that the evening's highlight was the way in which the pair teamed up for "Six White Horses." With his banjo and harmonica strapped around him, Rawlings left his mic on the left side of the stage to share Welch's microphone with her. If there's a song on the latest album that requires a healthy dose of lively percussion, it's that song.
As it turns out, Welch had that part figured out without having to add to the minimal amount of instrumentation on the stage. By rhythmically slapping her thighs and then stepping slightly to the side and proceeding to offer up a stomping, time-keeping country jig with her boots, Welch gave the tune a life that simply doesn't exist on record.
In this week's discussion with Welch, she also mentioned how she and Rawlings created "intricate, musical soundscapes." It's rare when music can sound as organic and feel as natural as Saturday night's tunes did while simultaneously feeling rather delicate and intricate. Often times, the descriptor "organic" implies a certain rugged or rustic feel, but when vocals are as sweet as Welch's and Rawlings', organic can be refined.
Personal bias: Sure, I was a fan, but not a superfan by any means. That changed with this show.
Overheard: "That guy's got too many lemons in his beer to call himself a real cowboy."
Random note: Many musicians and artists from the North Texas creative community were on hand. When that's the case, you're usually at the right show.