Friday, November 18, 2011

Review of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings at the Grand Canal Theatre Dublin 17 November 2011

I haven’t written a concert review in a while, but it would be reprehensible to let an appearance in Dublin by Gillian Welch go without mention.

As usual it was one of the concert highlights of the year, and a very successful return to Dublin on the back of her new album ‘The Harrow and the Harvest’. She usually plays Vicar Street but this time sold out the (larger) Grand Canal Theatre, a good achievement indeed in recession riddled Ireland.

Anyway, on to the show. At around 8.15 herself and Dave came on to a loud welcome and kicked straight into a powerful opening ‘Tear My Stillhouse Down’ before giving us a nice ‘Scarlet Town’ the evening’s first song from the new album. The audience was a bit quiet for the opening few songs, a fact noted humorously by Gillian, after which things livened up considerably. And of course, humour always being a big part of a Gill/Dave show, tonight was no exception, their songs often being so grim (in theme at least), it’s nice that the two of them are so hilarious in person. The only other artists I’ve seen who come close to being so funny are probably John Prine and Tom Waits.

They’ve also added in a nice little theatrical element – on the song 'Six White Horses' Gillian does some tap dancing (clog dancing?) and some percussion on her legs – doesn’t sound so good on paper (!) but very affecting and amusing on the night.

Anyway, leaving theatricality aside the main reason a packed house had turned up on this mild November night was to see and hear great music. And the show was jam-packed with great music. If I had to pick my top two performances of the night I’d opt for 'Wayside/Back in Time', a strong tune from the underrated Soul Journey album, and one I’d never seen them do before. Song of the night though had to be 'Revelator' – it really is their masterpiece and while it’s always a tour-de-force live, tonight seemed to take it to a new level – containing some of the most spine-chilling guitar I’ve heard in a concert for a long time. Dave got a thunderous and well deserved ovation at the end of it.

It really is amazing the power of this music – normally I’m not a huge fan of acoustic concerts, but what is generated by these two, just with guitar’s, voices (and occasional harmonica and banjo) beggars belief. Dave is not a strong solo singer but (ala Mike Mills) is a terrific backing singer and one of my favourite guitar players of all time, and likewise Gillian is one of my favourite singers ever.

Other highlights were; the 2 covers – Neil Young’s 'Pocohantas' and Jefferson Airplane’s 'White Rabbit', typically powerful versions of 'Look at Miss Ohio' and 'Caleb Mayer', plus some of the strongest songs from the new album - my favourite of which were 2 gorgeous performances - ‘Dark Turn of Mind’ and ‘That’s the Way that the Whole Thing Ends’, 2 quiet songs cleverly placed in the encores but mixed up with some of the livelier more throwaway (albeit entertaining) songs like ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and ‘Jackson’.

So, much as I enjoyed the Dave Rawlings concert in Belfast last year (where he and Gillian kind-of swapped roles) and his own album was quite good too, it’s been amazing to have a proper new Gillian album and tour. Let’s hope we see them again soon!

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