The impressive Grand Canal Theatre was the setting for the visit of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings to Dublin. Their live sets are, in theory, simplicity itself, with Welch and Rawlings playing guitar and singing without any backing musicians. The reality is somewhat different. They create a really full sound with Rawlings’ blindingly intricate lead acoustic guitar. It threatens to steal the show but it wouldn’t work without Welch’s highly disciplined rhythm guitar providing the structure for all the songs.
Their jaunty demeanour was fairly at odds with a lot of the gloriously downbeat material (Scarlet Town, The Way It Will Be), particularly the ten gallon hat wearing Rawlings, who you might mistake for an oil baron. Welch joked about the water in Dublin making her hair curly.
Their set was split into two halves with a short intermission, with minimal deviation from the voice and guitar combination, only occasional banjo and harmonica. Their set was far from repetitive, their uncluttered playing allowing the songs to flourish. Elvis Presley Blues benefited from the short inclusion of All Shook Up, while the gorgeous yearning Tennessee soared in the live setting. There was a wonderful dynamic between the two of them, they are clearly seamless as musicians, each of them instinctively knowing what the other was playing.
They began their second set with slower numbers, including a gorgeous, easy version of Down Along the Dixie Line before Revelator saw Rawlings’ guitar magically run amok once again. Six White Horses featured Gillian Welch on hand and body clap (!) percussion, and even saw her break out some dance moves. It was jaw-dropping and brave, and afterwards Dave Rawlings sang Ruby, a song full of regret, for which he even removed his hat briefly. After a rousing Caleb Meyer, they were gone, only to return for a series of encores which included a breathtaking version of Neil Young’s Pocahontas, a blast through June Carter & Johnny Cash’s Jackson before the whole thing wound up with Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.
It’s been a while since I’ve witnessed four standing ovations but that’s what they got. It was clear that Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings enjoyed themselves as much as the lucky audience. An unmissable proposition in concert.