Live Review: Gillian Welch

15 February 2016 | 4:12 pm | Steve Bell

"An incredible intersection of thought-provoking lyrics and elegant, timeless Americana."

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Time strips away as the familiar figures of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings loll casually onto The Tivoli stage they last made their own back in 2004, and as they open with the old-timey warmth of Scarlet Town their shadows sway in perfect silhouette behind them.

That effortless charm which defines both their relationship with each other and their union with their fans displays from the outset, the warmth emanating from Welch's voice and person as they continue through Wayside/Back In Time and Rock Of Ages something to behold. Rawlings exhibits dry wit and good nature between songs but saves his best expression for his guitar lines, his trusty 1935 Epiphone Olympic archtop seeming like an extension of his self as he coaxes the dexterous, cascading guitar lines that bring gorgeous songs like the up-tempo The Way It Goes alive. Their beguiling blend of sombre, Appalachian-tinged folk is simple in its construction and delivery — needing no embellishment beyond two guitars, two voices and the occasional mouth harp — but resonates with so much depth and gravitas, whether it's the solemn Elvis Presley Blues or the playful I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll, with its gorgeous harmonising and raucous fingerpicking solo. The simpatico between the two is tangible and they both immerse in the songs entirely, Rawlings in particular always seeming so engrossed with the music they're emitting. They finish the first set strongly with the mournful Tennessee and toe-tappin' Red Clay Halo, leaving the stage beaming at the crowd's delighted indecorum.

They return after the break to another burst of rapturous applause and Welch dons the banjo for the beautifully restrained Hard Times, before moving through old standard Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor and the plaintive Down Along The Dixie Line. The reverence and quiet from the large throng is remarkable, the crowd hanging on every nuance as Welch and Rawlings share a mic for Six White Horses. The incredible Revelator proves tonight's showstopper — an incredible intersection of thought-provoking lyrics and elegant, timeless Americana — before Rawlings takes the vocal reins for the ultra-authentic Sweet Tooth, Welch countering with the soaring, assured Wrecking Ball. The second section concludes with murder ballad Caleb Meyer, but an encore is conceded with little ado and the room soon blossoms into life with the singalong grandeur of Look At Miss Ohio, which melts into the joyous I'll Fly Away (from the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, which Welch helped curate). They leave the fray again but return for a spirited take on staple country duet Jackson — which typically transforms into their own image — and both seem positively delighted to be drawn back for a third encore, which they obligate with the restrained and wonderful Everything Is Free. It's a seamless and special performance from an extraordinarily talented pair who don't just ply the country tradition: they are the country tradition.