It’s going to be really hard for any concert I see the rest of this year to top Gillian Welch’s jaw-droppingly good two-set show at Seattle's Moore Theatre July 13, 2011. Anyone only familiar with studio-recorded Welch might have a hard time understanding this. Sure, her records are gorgeous, elegiac modern country/bluegrass masterpieces, but often the songs are deliberately paced with hushed vocals — not exactly a common one-two punch for a rousing live show.
Welch, along with longtime musical partner Dave Rawlings, poked fun at her own slow style Wednesday. While the songs often took their time, meandering around Rawlings’ expert guitar work and Welch’s deceptively powerful voice, they were anything but boring. Armed with only a pair of acoustic guitars, a banjo, some harmonicas and some of the loveliest harmonies you can imagine, Welch and Rawlings found the sweet spot of 22 songs, much to the delight of a roaring packed house at the Moore.
Welch’s long-awaited new record, The Harrow & The Harvest, was released in late June 2011, and with all the new songs, she and Rawlings were still “figuring out which songs like to be next to each other,” Welch said. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’ve got it pretty well figured. The upbeat and the somber mingled without a hint of incongruity — both elements essential to Welch’s musical sensibility.
The one structural hiccup prompted Welch to mutter, “What are we doing here?” which was met with an enthusiastic response: “Awesomeness.”
“That’s what it says on the setlist,” Rawlings replied, a sly grin underneath his cowboy hat. The pair had the audience enthralled throughout, and they more than earned the adoration.
It’s clear Welch and Rawlings have been making music together for a long time — intuitively playing off one another to create some truly memorable moments, like Rawlings’ extended guitar coda on “Revelator” and Welch’s downright adorable knee slapping and dancing accompaniment to “Six White Horses.” When they launched into a rendition of “I’ll Fly Away” during the first of two encores, the entire venue echoed with audience voices in an impromptu sing-along.