Live Review: Gillian Welch

31 January 2016 | 1:37 pm | Christopher H James

"Performing together was more like the flawless union of two minds."

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As plush and sophisticated as the Perth Concert Hall is, it was something of an odd fit for Gillian Welch and her long, long time partner David Rawlings.

There was no other personnel onstage, no electricity and no monitors; just Welch and Rawlings simple, Americana roots music; just the sort of material that would suit a dusty back porch overlooking a scorched Tennessee plain rather than this setting designed for classical musical. The pair seemed very much at ease though and - without a current album to tour - in a good place to reflect over their body of work. If their careers were a river, this might be the billabong stage where everything slows down for a while. Rawlings in particular was upfront about the mood of some of their material. “This song’s kind of a downer. Not that we’d built up any momentum anyway,” he grinned slyly. “It starts slow and just fizzles out.”

There was no need for false modesty though as the gripped audience lapped up devastating takes of Tennessee and Revelator which cut straight to the bone. These misery-drenched moments were balanced with some joyous hillbilly hoedowns, impromptu tap-dancing and a handful of covers, including a transcendent I’ll Fly Away and a classic version of Neil Young’s Pocahontas that uncovered previously unimagined layers of beauty. Rawlings playing style, with the butt of his archtop Epiphone guitar locked into his opposing hip, was somewhat shaky, particularly in the heat of feverish double time solo. But Welch was placid by contrast as the less she did onstage, the more she sucked our attention in. 

In light of Paul Kantner’s recent passing, the duo closed with a take on Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit so authoritative that it was almost impossible to believe that it wasn’t originally theirs, followed by Johnny Cash & June Carter’s Jackson; a rollicking toe-tapper that would’ve made for a perfect finale but for the fact there wasn’t an ounce of venom between Rawlings and Welch. As the sweetest couple imaginable, it was virtually impossible to imagine one demanding the other to pack their bags or be kicked to the kerb, as the interplay between them tonight went beyond mere synchronicity; there was a deeper understanding, one that having been nurtured over decades performing together was more like the flawless union of two minds.

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