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Bootleg Country: Gillian Welch – 09/17/03

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I have a long history of not going to a concert and then regretting it for years to come. The reasons for not going usually involve not having anyone to go with/not wanting to go alone, and not being familiar enough with the artist to convince me that the show is a must see.

That and I’m a cheap bastard.

A few months down the road I usually become more familiar with the artist and begin cursing myself for not seeing them. This happens often in the city I currently live. It is a college town and large enough to nab artists just before they hit the big time, but too small, and too close to Indianapolis to carry them after that. So usually it is once missed, never see again.

Gillian Welch came to town a few years back and I thought about seeing her. I liked the few songs I had heard of hers, but the voice in the back of my head got to nagging – you don’t know her songs, you won’t be able to sing along, you should be saving your hard earned dough – and I didn’t go.

Oh how I have cursed my ever loving name for that. How I’ve yearned for her to come back, to no avail.

09/17/03
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, MI

Quite simply, Gillian Welch’s voice is nothing short of heavenly.

If there really are angels, and they really do sing, then they must sound like Gillian Welch.

She has some of the most haunting, achingly beautiful songs ever sung. I am reminded of Alison Krauss in that the two have similarly beautiful voices, yet where Alison’s choice of songs often make no impression on me, Gillian’s own songs and her choice of covers are perfect for her style and often get stuck in my head for days on end. I have been singing “Look at Miss Ohio” for a week now.

This show starts with a triple play of my favorite Gillian Welch songs. “Look at Miss Ohio” starts off the show and it often gets a repeat play around these parts. It is followed by “Elvis Presley Blues” which is the first Gillian Welch song I ever knew, and remains one of my favorites. It speaks of nostalgia, the deep mysterious ache of loss and the magic of music. It is a perfect song and Gillian Welch sings it like it’s the only song in the world.

My holy trinity is concluded with “Rock of Ages” which is one of Gillian Welch’s rocking out songs, and by that I mean it has a tempo other than a slow dirge.

Before I go any further, I really must mention David Rawlings, Gillian’s musical partner for many years. David often gets overlooked in writings about Gillian, but is very much an important player in her musicality. On stage he sings harmony and plays guitar and gives the music a layered and more dense quality.

She follows her trio of excellence with an entire show of great music. It is a show that reaches spiritual proportions. The music is so soft and warm and kind it wraps around me like a blanket near a fire while the cold wind and rain whip about outside.

This is an audience recording and as such we hear the crowd scream and shout between songs at a louder volume than preferable. However, they do keep quiet during the song performances allowing the music to filter in untouched and unmarred.

My only complaint is that the show runs just a tad long. While the music is always beautiful, Gillian’s penchant for playing slow, sad songs starts to be too much by the middle of the second disk. I find myself fully ready for it to be over a few songs before it actually is. I suspect as an audience member I would have begged for more, but as it is, on CD I’m ready for the closure.

It is a great disk by a overlooked performer, whose music really matters. In a world full of dizzying pop songs, flashy lights, and fast edited videos, Gillian Welch seems more of the past, like some ancient hieroglyph pulled from the very dust of America. It is old, real music that should last another millennium.

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About Mat Brewster

  • http://bootlegnation.wordpress.com/rss.xml Mat Brewster

    That was awesome dude!

    Um, I’m really just checking to see if comments are working since they failed a minute ago on the Dukes movie type thing.

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    Congrats! A link to this article now appears on our Myspace Profile page.

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    Congrats! This article is an Editor’s Pick this week.

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