Tag Archives: Gillian Welch


An Evening with David Rawlings (and Friends) at Brooklyn Steel

December 1st, 2017

When the book is written on the all-time great musical couples, the chapter on David Rawlings and Gillian Welch (or is that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings?) will be one to dog-ear and go back to again and again. In fact, the first couple of Americana discovered they had enough great folk in them that putting it out just as Gillian Welch wasn’t enough, and so Dave Rawlings Machine was born, with the first release (stream it below) back in 2009. Now on his third album, Poor David’s Almanack (stream it below), Rawlings (above, performing “Cumberland Gap” live for KMCP FM) has dropped the Machine from his moniker but has actually grown a full band, featuring some of the genre’s truly best musicians sounding as good as ever. Rawlings’s superlative guitar playing and timeless songs are backed by Willie Watson, Brittany Haas, Paul Kowert and, of course, Welch. The group is back on tour with a stop at Brooklyn Steel on Tuesday, a chance to stomp your feet, hoot and holler, and see a pair of all-timers do their thing. —A. Stein | @Neddyo


Gillian Welch Digs Deep at the Beacon Theatre

August 3rd, 2017

Gillian Welch – Beacon Theatre – August 2, 2017

Recently NPR released an article on the Top 150 Albums Made by Women spanning all genres of music from folk, soul, rock, pop and more. Gillian Welch at No. 39 was a particular gem sandwiched between the Staples Singers and Odetta. Welch’s rise came after a resurgence of country-blues thanks to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and has stood the test of time with her continuous touring. It’s been more than five years since the release of The Harrow and the Harvest, and that milestone perpetuated the singer to tour in support of a special vinyl release. Welch and longtime musical partner David Rawlings rolled into the ornate Beacon Theatre Wednesday evening to regale fans by playing the album in full.

Literally going from the opening track, “Scarlet Town,” to the fittingly conclusive “The Way the Whole Thing Ends,” the pair apologized for the many minor-key songs, but no one in the audience seemed to mind in the least. The singer charmed with her footwork on “Six White Horses,” as her two-step served as percussion for the rollicking number. A short intermission followed the conclusion of the album’s completion, and the duo returned to serenade the room with more woeful ditties, including “Wayside/Back in Time” and the ultimate crowd-pleaser, “Revelator.” Welch’s magic is truly in her partnership with Rawlings, whose mastery of the guitar perfectly phrases her heartbreaking lyrics. The guitarist took center stage to debut a new track from his upcoming release, Poor David’s Almanack, which the two will be touring behind next.

Many of their recordings have been touched by greats like Johnny Cash, who inspired “Dry Town,” and Doc Watson, whom the songstress addressed before performing the traditional “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor” during the encore. Welch saved the best for last with the aching “Orphan Girl,” and Rawlings’s fluttering guitar showcased on “Look at Miss Ohio.” The pair dug deep into their musical roots for the hymnal “I’ll Fly Away” by Albert E. Brumley, which evoked handclaps all the way up to the balcony. To wrap the evening with a proper farewell, the two covered the famed June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash hit “Jackson.” From one timeless country union to another, Welch and Rawlings continue their more-than-two-decade partnership with no end in sight. —Sharlene Chiu




More Than Just a Creative Name

January 24th, 2014

Hard Working Americans – The Bowery Ballroom – January23, 2014

Last night at The Bowery Ballroom was, as frontman Todd Snide mentioned several times, only the second gig the Hard Working Americans had ever played. Second gig together, that is: As individuals, the members—Snider, Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) on bass, Neal Casal (the Cardinals, Chris Robinson Brotherhood) on guitar, Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi’) on keyboards and Duane Trucks on drums—have logged probably closer to a zillion shows, and this kind of pedigree and professionalism made all the difference during show No. 2.

The supergroup primarily played songs off their self-titled debut, released earlier this week, comprised mostly of well-curated covers of the bluesy rock and roll variety. They opened, as the album does, with “Blackland Farmer,” a slow-build take that featured the thick-paste bottom layer of Schools, playing a four-string Fender, and the tasteful electric guitar chops of Casal. With Snider holding court up front, the music felt like what it was: old vets playing dress-up as up-and-comer kids. Each song seemed to unfold into multiple sections, like a sandwich cookie with a tasty substantial cover hiding a creamy, change-of-direction center. “Run a Mile” had the band clicking against a heavy duty bass beat with some counterpoint slide guitar, the whole band building into a slamming coda, each musician comfortably in his element.

Hard Working Americans had a lot of emotions in their arsenal, but they excelled with the dark and moody—as in the highlight, “I Don’t Have a Gun,” with low and slow smoking rock—and the high-energy ecstatic, as in “The Mountain Song” with its gliding cheerful Casal guitar solo and one to match from Staehly on organ, leading into a jam reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider.” Snider was on point all night, seemingly happy to shed his singer-songwriter cloak and just “watch people dance.” Still, the encore brought out the best in him as he sang a great heartfelt version of Drivin’ N Cryin’s “Going Straight to Hell” and matched that with a terrific take on the Bottle Rockets’ “Welfare Music.” As the crowd thinned out, the band returned for a surprising second encore, Snider owning a take on Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “Wrecking Ball,” which also closes the album, the remaining audience swaying and singing along. It was pretty clear that the Hard Working Americans wasn’t just a clever name. —A. Stein





Punch Brothers Take a Look Backward and Forward

December 31st, 2013

Punch Brothers – The Bowery Ballroom – December 30, 2013

The arrival of New Year’s Eve is the singular moment in the calendar when we’re equally looking backward and forward. This makes it the perfect time to catch the Punch Brothers, who take music and styles from the past and make them new and equally make modern sounds classic. Last night at The Bowery Ballroom was the second of three sold-out shows in what is taking root as an annual holiday tradition. A heavy curtain behind the stage played tricks with the light, the deep ruffles alternately absorbing and reflecting, evocative of another time and place. And as the band took the stage, Chris Thile wished the eager crowd a “happy New Year … almost!”

Punch Brothers opened with their version of Josh Ritter’s “Another New World,” a gorgeous silence filling the space between the instruments: banjo, mandolin, violin, guitar feeling as timeless as ever. A new song, “Magnet,” simultaneously felt both New Wave and bluegrass, Thile silly and suggestive. An instrumental was dark, the music a step of phase, like they wound a bluegrass breakdown a quarter turn to the left with impressive solos from Gabe Witcher on violin, Noam Pikelny on banjo and Chris Eldridge on guitar before a short back-and-forth between Paul Kowert on bass and Thile on mandolin. These profound moments of beauty alternated with looser bits, the Punch Brothers’ humor always of the inside-joke variety, large portions of the audience ready to participate on songs like “Patchwork Girlfriend,” shouting along at the right time without provocation.

It was two pairs of covers that summed up the Punch Brothers’ forward-and-backward dichotomy. Mid-set they established their indie cred with an Americana take on Elliott Smith’s “Clementine” and followed it with a fantastic modernized rendering of a Claude Debussy piece. The latter was an impressive display of talent, all five musicians immersed in the piece, making it their own. The encore paired a solo Bach piece from Thile with a cover of Americana legend John Hartford’s “Old Joe Clark.” Thile, who resisted taking too many outlandish solos during the set proper, let it all out during the Bach tune, signaling that if you’re going to be self-indulgent, you might as well go all the way. Watching him contort both the music and his body, making the difficult look easy and the very old feel very new, wasn’t just art but performance art. “Old Joe Clark,” on the other hand, was just some good old-fashioned picking, and lest we forget where these guys come from, they tacked on a strong bluegrass version of Gillian Welch’s “Back in Time.” From “Another New World” to “Back in Time.” Forward and backward—happy New Year … almost.
—A. Stein





Bowery Ballroom Crowd Takes a Seat for the Milk Carton Kids

May 20th, 2013

The Milk Carton Kids – The Bowery Ballroom – May 19, 2013

There were two rare occurrences at The Bowery Ballroom last night. The first was that the venue was set up with seats—a sit-down affair for the Milk Carton Kids. The duo, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, played in just a rectangle of light with four microphones onstage, one each for their voices and their guitars. Working largely from material off their new album, The Ash & Clay, the pair proved to be worthy of a seated show, better the audience to sit in hushed awe, savoring the fantastic two-part harmonies and every crisp note from the acoustic guitars.

While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s a two-way street, and if the Milk Carton Kids sound like they’re imitating the bluegrass-y folk of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, it’s just as flattering for the upstarts to be compared favorably to the gold standard of the genre. The music was a delight, early set highlights being the opening “Hope of a Lifetime” and “Honey, Honey,” the latter featuring the first of many great guitar solos from Pattengale, mixing bluegrass, country and old school swing jazz in a mix that could give Rawlings a run for his money. Music wasn’t the only thing they offered, though. For the same price of admission, the full house was treated to a two-man comedy team, a cross between Abbott and Costello and the Smothers Brothers, with Pattengale mostly playing the straight man to Ryan’s understated ramblings.

The banter truly felt like bits, Ryan starting off on one theme and then riffing his way through highbrow humor, drawing real laughter from the crowd. The line between the serious and the not so serious was thin for these guys, and at times nonexistent, like during “Charlie,” when a botched song became an opportunity for a one-liner or two. Still, it was the music itself that had the folks sitting at attention, the perfect blend of harmony and guitar playing in “Michigan” being a personal representative highlight. And that second rare occurrence? It happened right before the Dylan-esque, venue-appropriate encore of “New York”: a well-deserved standing ovation. —A. Stein


A Remarkably Good Show at The Bowery Ballroom

April 10th, 2013

Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau – The Bowery Ballroom – April 9, 2013

Chaos theory states that a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia affects the weather here in New York City. Through some incomprehensible series of actions and reactions, the two completely unrelated phenomena essentially communicate with each other. I think a similar incomprehensible series of actions and reactions explains the communication going on between the seemingly unrelated musicians onstage last night at The Bowery Ballroom. In this scenario, the parts of the butterfly and the weather were jazz-pianist extraordinaire Brad Mehldau and mandolin aficionado Chris Thile.

From the beginning, high-level interplay was on display, a long introduction that felt like a free-form-improv instrumental provided the opportunity for both musicians to assume the role of the butterfly—multihued, delicate, light—and the weather—unpredictable, blustering, occasionally torrential. These long fugues were interrupted by lyrics and vocals on songs like “Chopped Down Your Shade Tree” from Thile, bringing the concept of song and composition to the music before disintegrating back into superlative two-man jamming and then back again. Pieces stretched to 10 minutes and beyond, the duo showing no signs of running out of things to talk about, themes to pursue and then deconstruct. One of the few fully instrumental songs pushed the limits of their talents, simultaneously layering an Irish reel with blues and free jazz, like Ornette O’Coleman from Memphis for mandolin and piano, shifting to a mandolin swing reminiscent of David Grisman and finally relenting to jazz-standard territory with Mehldau stretching the exercise to a full 20 minutes.

The highlights within an essentially highlight-reel show were the covers. Each began as if just an instrumental vamp on a familiar melody before fully exploring the material to its fullest. These included Gillian Welch’s “Scarlet Town” and an instrumental version of “Long Black Veil.” Anyone familiar with Mehldau or Thile wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the centerpiece of their show was an awe-inspiring, exploratory take on Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” which had both men in top form, weaving in and out of the song’s themes perfectly. The set closed with Fiona Apple’s “Fast as You Can,” featuring a vigorous back-and-forth between the two, the whole set coming to a head in deep musical conversation. Perhaps the best for last, the encore closed with a perfect version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” the jamming concise and on point, the audience, for once, literally not having to think twice about the chaos going on in front of them. It’s alright. —A. Stein




Conor Oberst Doesn’t Disappoint

November 26th, 2012

Conor Oberst – Carnegie Hall – November 21, 2012

Outside Carnegie Hall last Wednesday, scalpers were offering tickets for Bright Eyes the night before Thanksgiving. What the what? Bright Eyes at Carnegie Hall? ’Twas true, as one Conor Oberst headlined a sold-out Stern Auditorium. From musical wunderkind to revered label chief, the 32-year-old’s long career was on full display in the famed hall’s confines. Covering material largely from his band, Bright Eyes, Oberst was dressed to the nines with a Calla lily boutonniere adorning his breast pocket and began his set solo with “The Big Picture.” Crooning the last line of the song from Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, his vocals reverberated throughout the hall.

Joined by multi-instrumentalist Ben Brodin, Oberst introduced new material early on with “Common Knowledge.” Getting comfortable, he joked that it was great to kick back in a venue that reminded him of shows back in his hometown of Omaha, Neb. Adding more company on the vast stage, Oberst called upon Rachel Cox to accompany him on “Classic Cars,” and long-term Bright Eyes member, Nate Walcott, sneaked onstage unbeknownst to Oberst until Walcott seated himself with trumpet in hand for “Southern State.” The number was thoroughly enhanced with classical keys from the black Steinway, which was one of the most expected instruments at the hallowed venue. Having played “At the Bottom of Everything” in 2004 for the Tibet House Benefit Concert, Oberst revealed it wasn’t his first time performing at Carnegie Hall.

Women play a big part in Oberst’s songwriting canon, which was also the case with “You Are Your Mother’s Child,” a new song. With James Felice on accordion, Oberst continued his female-inspired musings, playing “Ten Women,” a song he described as being careful what you wish for. The oldie “Laura Laurent” was a fan favorite, although its material sadly chronicles Oberst’s struggles with his depression-stricken ex. Not to enshroud the setting with too much emo, he picked up the tempo, dedicating the Monsters of Folk ditty “Map of the World” to fellow Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis, who was absent for the night. Oberst rocked out as his long locks whipped with every guitar strum. Not to leave fans wanting more, his encore included “Lua,” with Cox filling in for Gillian Welch, “Make War,” and the Felice Brothers crew on “Waste of Paint,” leaving no one disappointed as they exited the lush, grand venue. —Sharlene Chiu


Simply the Best

October 24th, 2011

Gillian Welch – Beacon Theatre – October 22, 2011

Gillian Welch’s sold-old performance at the Beacon Theatre on Saturday night was a study in the perfection of simplicity. Welch and her long-time musical partner, David Rawlings, stood side-by-side before a black backdrop on the large stage, empty but for some microphones, guitar stands and Rawlings’ weathered guitar amp—a minimal and striking tableaux. The duo’s musical collaboration on a modern blend of country, bluegrass and Americana is perhaps most remarkable for its ease and comfort. As they performed new material from Welch’s recent album, The Harrow & the Harvest, along with favorite cuts from her catalog and some choice covers, the duo effortlessly harmonized, weaving their guitar (and occasional banjo) lines and voices and into a seamless tapestry.

Some of the evening’s high points included a riveting rendition of “Revelator,” with Rawlings masterfully reaching out his hand to tune a string in the midst of a shredding guitar solo (and still managing to keep time), a lovely rendition of “Hard Times,” highlighting the interplay of banjo and Welch’s delicate voice, and the spirited addition of Welch’s percussive clapping and shuffling of her cowboy boots over Rawlings’ harmonica and banjo during “Six White Horses.” Toward the end of the second set, the duo mixed in several verses of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” during Rawlings’ “I Hear Them All,” and ended the night with a powerful version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

Welch and Rawlings’ performance was proof that the duo needs little more than a handful of instruments and an audience to put on a great show. With these simple elements in place, the stage was perfectly set to showcase the music itself, at times delicate and nuanced and buoyant and cheerful—the most wonderfully complex element of the night. —Alena Kastin


Union Transfer Opens Tonight in Philadelphia

September 21st, 2011

To quote Neil Young, “Tonight’s the night.” Yes, Union Transfer, named after the original train-depot station that occupied the building, officially opens for business when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah plays the new venue’s very first show. According to Philadelphia Weekly, “Tonight marks two returns from the dead…. We’re talking about the venerable building at 10th and Spring Garden that formerly housed the culinary shit hole known as the Spaghetti Warehouse, but this evening gets its grand reopening as the gorgeous new music venue Union Transfer. And we’re also talking about the reunited Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, which will christen Union Transfer with lots of fresh tunes.”

The Courier Post opines: “It is being touted as a general admission, air-conditioned venue that can accommodate 600 to 1,000 music lovers, depending on the show.” And that some of Union Transfer’s fine attributes are a close-to-Center City location, a state-of-the-art sound system and a wide array of bands, from Odd Future to Chris Robinson to Gillian Welch. But remember, this is just the beginning. Expect lots of great shows week after week. Philadelphia, welcome to The Bowery Presents.


Lively, Timeless Music at The Bowery Ballroom

June 3rd, 2010

Dave Rawlings Machine – The Bowery Ballroom – June 2, 2010

263863059_ac5204f9ab Dave Rawlings—guitarist, producer and songwriter for artists such as Ryan Adams, Old Crow Medicine Show and his frequent collaborator, Gillian Welch—began the first of a two-show stint at The Bowery Ballroom last night performing as the Dave Rawlings Machine. Though Rawlings has appeared on many different albums in his career, the Dave Rawlings Machine’s recent album, Friend of a Friend, is, surprisingly, the first proper release under his own name, and many of his previous collaborators (including Welch) have come onboard to back him up this time.

“We’re still trying to figure out what the machine does,” said Welch, shortly after taking the stage. “We know that it wears denim,” she said teasingly, giving Rawlings’ wardrobe a once over. Literal meanings aside, the Dave Rawlings Machine’s sound is in line with much of Rawlings’ previous music, with intricate bluegrass guitar melodies, a subtle twang, delicate vocal harmonies and smooth layers of violin softening the edges. Rawlings is an intense, energetic performer, swaying and bouncing with the rhythms of his guitar, tilting its neck up and down as he plucked out intricate solos, and always smiling.

As the band tore through material from Friend of a Friend (“Ruby,” “I Hear Them All,” “Bells of Harlem”), they also incorporated renditions of folk and country classics like “This Land Is Your Land,” “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and “John Henry.” The effortless give and take between the musicians, and especially the proven chemistry between Rawlings and Welch, made for a fluid performance. Given the Dave Rawlings Machine’s musical prowess, it’s tempting to make a bad pun about the band as a “well oiled machine.” Luckily, their lively, timeless style of music deserves much more than an overused pun—and judging by their hearty applause and hollers, last’s nights’ crowd would agree. —Alena Kastin

(Dave Rawlings Machine plays The Bowery Ballroom tonight.)