GILLIAN WELCH - MONTREAL, OCTOBER 25
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Gillian Welch at Montreal's Le National, Tuesday October 25.
Gillian Welch came on stage a little after 8:30 pm. She wore cowboy boots and a skinny dress. Beside her, Dave Rawlings, in cowboy boots and a skinny suit. He held a little acoustic guitar. He wore a hat. Gillian Welch was carrying a guitar as well, a regular one, and each of them stood behind a microphone and then they played one of the best concerts I have ever seen.
A concert can be miraculous in several different ways. It can be about the moment, the particular-place-and-time, the way everyone rallies together during a blackout; it can be because something is happening in the interior of the musician on stage, a private stirring; it can be the hometown comeback or the faraway debut. This concert was a faraway debut - Welch's first time in Montreal - but the show was not miraculous because of this. It was not miraculous because any of these things. Its miraculous-ness, its miracle, came from somewhere else.
Welch and Rawlings sang and played guitar. There was a little banjo, a little harmonica, two perfect minutes when Welch clogged to the side of the stage. That was all. No opener, two sets, three encores. 22 songs, but who's counting. You cannot imagine the warmth, the fragility, the tenderness of these two voices in harmony, united before you, wrote Le Devoir's Sylvain Cormier. No record can give this.
The miracle was this: wonderful songs, beautifully played. Musicians who have that trick of putting soul and want and ragged years into hands, voice, glint of eye. Showmen who raise the house slowly and then bring it down; who show us one treasure and then turn and show us another. They made it seem so simple. Most songs began the same way: turning to one-another, humming and strumming a bar off-mike, then there before us, songing. Welch strummed her guitar, picked her banjo; Rawlings' fingerpicking was filigree, until it wasn't, these decorations suddenly at the centre of the room. On most songs he had a solo, and these solos were whatever he wanted them to be. Short stories, meditations, blues; on "Revelator", the notes he played made the hair stand up on my arms, made my heart shake, heavy as anything I have ever heard, as Godspeed & Low & Neil Young with Crazyhorse, on that little acoustic guitar.
They would sing together, Welch's voice at the front, Rawlings in the edges, like smoke. Cormier is right: this sounds different live than on record. In recordings, Rawlings's singing seems somehow like shading, bolstering, a pretty support. In concert, they seem like one thing. Like the two colours of a mirror.
They played "One More Dollar", clear-eyed, "Red Clay Halo", jubilant, "Rock of Ages", grim and certain, "The Way It Will Be", slow and sad. They played June and Johnny Cash's "Jackson" and a gorgeous cover of John Hartford's "In Tall Buildings". They sang "Look at Miss Ohio" and we all sang along, full throated, without being asked for a thing.
They played so well. That was all they did. So well, they played.
Sometimes a miracle can fit in a small box, a box the size of a dictionary, where you keep your picks and capos.
(Two days later, Welch came down with laryngitis! Get well soon.)
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(photo by Mark Seliger)Posted by Sean at October 27, 2011 6:26 PM
They do play a charming, charming show. I watched them play the Music Center at Strathmore - a room seemingly equal in height and length - an experience Gillian likened to playings inside a birthday cake.Posted by Matthew at October 28, 2011 9:50 PM
I feel ya. I saw them in San Francisco a few years ago. It all appears so tossed-off, and yet you're right: what a miracle of intimacy.Posted by Brian at October 28, 2011 9:54 PM
gillian welch is...gillian welch. david rawlings is simply one of the top three guitarists playing today. dr:guitar::victor wooten:bass.
You nailed it. You absolutely nailed it. Great read.Posted by T at October 31, 2011 9:48 AM
Who knew they were in town? Totally missed out in it.Posted by yabba at October 31, 2011 4:25 PM
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