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Live Review: Gillian Welch

9 February 2016 | 11:03 am | Paul Smith

"Welch's vocal oozed charisma wrapped up in some rolling acoustic melodies while Rawlings constantly created the most sublime guitar sounds."

With her long-time music partner David Rawlings' fear of flying, American singer-songwriter Gillian Welch shows in Australia are few and far between. It's been more than 11 years since the last but this time they are making the most of it, playing one set of shows as a duo in her name and then another the following week as the quintet Dave Rawlings Machine. 

With no other distractions on stage, right from the rich and rolling harmonies of the opening Scarlet Town it was evident how confident they are in each other. At every twist and turn of folk, country and Americana throughout their mammoth 23-song set they bonded perfectly. Welch's vocal oozed charisma wrapped up in some rolling acoustic melodies while Rawlings constantly created the most sublime guitar sounds as he seemed to shake every inch of life out of the instrument. It was particularly evident on The Way It Goes, which appeared almost possessed, as if running ahead of itself. It was little wonder that spontaneous bursts of applause were offered up on numerous occasions mid-song for Rawlings' simply incredible playing.

A real highlight came with a captivating trio of songs shortly after the interval. The slow, deliberate pace of the intense Hard Times and the mellow meditative nature of Down Along The Dixie Line was followed by a mesmerising Time (The Revelator) which, with its climactic ending, brought everyone back from an almost spiritual three-part journey.

Welch and Rawlings displayed a relaxed joviality throughout, both between themselves and with the audience, and that extended to the clap, slap and tap accompaniment Welch gave to the fun-time Six White Horses.

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With three encores all parties seemed reluctant to finish. But it finally did so with the duo right at the front of stage, unplugged and without mics with a cover of Lefty Frizzell's The Long Black Veil. This was a spellbinding evening of music at its purest.