Live Review: Gillian Welch & David Rawling

3 February 2016 | 5:54 pm | Chris Havercroft

"To put this evening into words is to do the duo a disservice - nothing could capture how sublime it was."

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This one has been a long time coming. Gillian Welch and her partner David Rawlings last came to Australia 11 years ago, and whilst wowing audiences everywhere they played, Perth was not on that list. Rawlings' well documented aversion to flying is a major factor in the delay, but they made up for the absence with a faultless display of the brand of music they have pioneered - Americana.

The stage setup was minimalist to say the least with a couple of mic stands, a rug, small table and a couple of glasses of water being the only embellishments in a venue that Welch chirped ‘could store a lot of hay. The duo filled the whole evening, playing two sets that would be in excess of an hour each on their way towards a couple of standing ovations.

Welch’s voice is a thing of beauty and legend as she makes her songs of death and loneliness appear as lovely as a room full of puppies. As Rawlings plays fast paced runs high on the neck of his trusty guitar, he waves the instrument around as if it is an extension of himself. Each solo is met with whoops and hollers from the captivated audience which drown out the noise on stage for the couple who perform with no amplifiers or monitors. Welch puts aside her guitar so as to add banjo to the mix for Rock Of Ages, but it is the harmonies on tunes like I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll that is the duo’s strength, and their reinterpretation of Neil Young’s Pocahontas an unexpected delight.

With your stereotypical cowboy hat for Rawlings and Welch sporting a full-length dress that has been sewn by a friend, the pair were the figure of an Appalachian couple. The crowd were either silenced or euphoric (often both) by the perfect display of songcraft and musicianship with a large spectrum of the Welch catalogue being mined through.

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Welch suggested that the arrangement of Six White Horses came to them late one night with Rawlings taking on the banjo duties and Welch accompanying with the traditional craft ham-boning before showing off her boot scooting on the side of the stage. Revelator is a slow burn and Welch’s pièce de résistance. Rawlings was at his nimble best as he attacked his bluesy solos with vigour whilst wearing the grin of a smiling assassin. The Rawlings led Sweet Tooth (from the first David Rawlings Machine album) offered some bright respite.

The ‘American dream team’ crammed more  jewels into an encore than many bands have in a whole show. Look At Miss Ohio was notable for Welch’s impassioned drawl, but it was the tribute to recently fallen Jefferson Airplane member Paul Kantner with a head melting version of White Rabbit that filled all with awe.

To put this evening into words is to do the duo a disservice - nothing could capture how sublime it was. Gillian Welch was perfect in every way as she made grown men cry and women swoon. It was like having angels in your ears for well over two hours.

Originally published in X-Press Magazine