"Dynamics of dark and light, death and life, hollerin' loud and whisper quiet were masterfully wrought."
"We're not here for the kangaroos," declared Americana icon Gillian Welch on her anticipated return to the land Down Under. This was her maiden voyage to Adelaide, rolling into town after trekking 28 hours across the Nullarbor with musical partner David Rawlings. A raggedy duo of bluegrass troubadours, they stood on a smoky stage, modestly eyeing the capacity crowd, before falling into their first set.
Two bars into Scarlet Town — folksy opener from 2011's The Harrow & The Harvest album — Welch had the room enthralled. Her twang rang out through Her Majesty's Theatre, delivering originals (The Way It Will Be, The Way It Goes, Elvis Presley Blues to name a few) and traditionals (Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor) with equal candour.
Swaggering cowboy Rawlings kept up, a baby pink capo on his ageing Epiphone archtop. His diffidence when picking at the trash-n-treasure axe was in stark contrast to the man's ludicrous talent. Brandishing the instrument like an extension of his body, neck constantly thrust out toward the crowd, Rawlings kept the theatre eerily silent, save for the squeak of skin on strings.
By the second set, it seemed the night hinged on dichotomies. The pair's casual banter contrasted against the fatalist themes of their songbook: one minute Welch was comparing the health benefits of listening to banjo as equivalent to taking a B vitamin; the next, she's cutting up rapist Caleb Meyer with the broken neck of a bottle. Then she's back boot-scootin' and ham-bonin' along to Six White Horses. Dynamics of dark and light, death and life, hollerin' loud and whisper quiet were masterfully wrought.
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For the first encore, Welch conducted the audience in a sing-along rendition of Happy Birthday for her pa, who was celebrating 90 circuits around the sun on the other side of the world. A cover of White Rabbit had the crowd close to rapture, before the duo came downstage to play an unplugged cover of Lefty Frizzell's The Long Black Veil. Freed of mic stands and digital tuners, the naturally amplified finale left the theatre steeped in resonant nostalgia.