Gillian Welch – July 20, 2011

I’ve had the great pleasure to see a lot of great shows in my life. Even though I’m an obsessive music nerd with an embarrassing CD collection cluttering up my house, there are surprisingly few artists still remaining on my “must-see” list, whom I haven’t yet. On July 20, I had the opportunity to cross one of those names off my list, when I traveled to see Gillian Welch & David Rawlings in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the Fitzgerald Theater.

The shows and CDs are billed as Gillian Welch, but really, she would likely be a LOT less interesting without her amazing partner David Rawlings. I read that they think of themselves as a two-piece band called “Gillian Welch,” and I totally agree. I can’t really imagine one without the other.

It’s Welch’s voice and lyrics that draw you in, I’m sure, but the powerful guitar playing and tight harmonies provided by Rawlings are absolutely essential. They work well together musically, of course, but they are comfortable and funny talking together, finishing each other’s sentences and adding a lot of colour to whatever the other is doing. They are without a doubt one of the most perfectly matched pairs I’ve ever heard, and I hope that they never really decide to go “solo” and do anything apart.

Welch just released a new record “The Harrow & The Harvest” after an 8-year gap between records. That’s almost inexcusable, especially after only releasing 4 previous discs. Luckily, those discs were so strong that expectations were high for a new one, and there was a hungry audience, eagerly awaiting a new recording.

Reviews are mixed about whether the wait was worth it and whether the new disc stands up, but after seeing many of the new songs performed live, I’m a believer. It’s worth picking up, and worth investing some time getting to know.

And live is where these songs belong, obviously. On disc, they’re not embellished with a lot of extra accompaniment, so you’d think that the live show would be much like what you can get at home, but there’s something so pure and powerful about this duo, that it almost has to be seen to be believed.

Welch and Rawlings are one of the only “true” acoustic acts I’ve ever seen – no amplifiers, no pedals, heck, they don’t even use or need monitors – the stand close together and sing and play in such tight harmony that it’s almost as if they become one. They truly become a group much greater than the sum of its parts, and put on one of the most riveting live shows I’ve ever witnessed (and I’ve witnessed plenty of great ones.)

The show promises to reign long on my list of favourite performances I’ve witnessed, and it has now become the high water mark, by which I will measure future singer/songwriter shows. I know that it will be a long time before I see something so captivating and powerful and memorable again.

Every once in a while, I get inspired to record a show, not because I’m some evil bootlegger looking to make a buck, but because I have a really bad memory, and I like something to remind me of the great shows I’ve seen and heard. My recordings are decidedly low-quality, and not in any way meant to be audiophile recordings, and certainly aren’t meant to take the place of authorized recordings. In fact, I really hope that they inspire you to get out to a show or buy a CD (ok, or a digital download) of your own.

With that in mind, if you want to download this amazing show for yourself, go ahead and enjoy. You don’t need to post it on your site or host it anywhere else, just let other folks know to stop by and visit my site. Don’t ever sell it or do anything bad. Look both ways before you cross the street, too.

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