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Review Mon Jul 07 2014

An Evening with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings

Thalia Hall Gapers(1).jpg
Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings (Photos by Katie Hovland)

Since her debut album Revival, Gillian Welch has constantly had her musical partner Dave Rawlings by her side. It has become a little difficult to separate them from one another, seeing as every album that bares one of their names holds the other in tow. After an eight year absence from recording songs under Welch's name, the duo released The Harrow & The Harvest, one of the best folk albums in recent memory. This past Wednesday at the magnificent Thalia Hall, Welch and Rawlings presented their pairing with delightful sincerity.

They came out with no introduction and they certainly didn't need it. The night was set aside for just the two of them, no opener other than themselves. The crowd whooped and hollered with all the veracity of much more elaborate or gaudy show, when it was just Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, their stringed instruments, and a few mics at center stage. The simplicity of having these two musicians stand tall in the middle of the stage amplified not only their talents but the majesty of Thalia Hall. It left everything out in the open, no fuss to distract from "Tear My Stillhouse Down", the first song of a very fulfilling night.

Gillian Welch 1 Gapers(1).jpg
Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings (Photos by Katie Hovland)

The evening with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings was spread across two full sets, incorporating a slew of covers and really candid banter. It felt more like a story telling session, with both Welch and Rawlings speaking to the crowd with their calming inflections. Some of the stories held true to the minutia of life that makes it unique, Welch's exerted her confusion over the cold Chicago weather in comparison to Nashville and felt like here world and dress were held up by safety pins, which she realized in her twenties that one can actually buy a bunch of safety pins. Even stories that held a grander scope, like playing with Doc Watson, were so inherently personal, making the audience empathized with Welch and Rawlings.

Welch's introduction to "Caleb Meyer" told of a strange newspaper interview, where she voiced her love of murder ballads and joked about her unease with the term Americana. Welch and Rawlings music is often described with like-minded terms like folk, Americana, country, etc., but it never entirely inhabits any one of them. Welch teased the audience by asking if anyone had been dragged to the show expecting bluegrass or even country. Rawlings then mused that it was actually an acoustic trance show with a bit of lament as he uttered, "Y'all are light on the glow sticks". Welch promised to bring some next time. It garnered laughs from the crowd who understood the fluidity of the pair's music, which became evident closer to the evening's end.

Welch and Rawlings ability to manipulate their instruments is wonderful, adding a homegrown depth to their already mesmerizing work. Rawlings powerfully rapped on his guitar to mimic the door knocks during "Scarlet Town". His passionate strumming during "Time (The Revelator)" appeared more like an intimate dance with his guitar nestled between his arms and chest. Welch's wielding of her guitar and harmonica on "Wayside/Back in Time" elevated her to a musical goddess as the empty backdrop lit up red the bright blue stage lights cast down on her.

Gillian Welch 2 Gapers(1).jpg
Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings (Photos by Katie Hovland)

Their chemistry together after so many years playing together is palpable and their music shows it. "Six White Horses" had them at their most playful. Welch danced and tapped her against the now patterned background while Rawlings to the lead on vocals. During the cover of Dave Rawlings Machine's "Ruby" Welch flawlessly supported Rawlings love song. There is no harsh ego between the two; they combine themselves together in every song to fully realize its splendor. Early in the first set, "The Way it Will Be" melded Welch and Rawlings' voices with unfathomable ease and loveliness. It was more than their harmonies becoming one; rather it was as if they had always been one. It was the first of many times during the night that their duets transcended graspable understanding.

Concerts are meant to be shared experiences, but more often than not they do not attain this sense of togetherness. However, this show brought everyone together as a community. The concentrated cheers and claps spread through the audience, melding together as one just as the musicians on stage. Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, an every person in Thalia Hall was too appreciative, too enthralled by one another to ever truly let go. The show had no inklings of ever winding down, but clearly the evening had to come to a close. Their final songs exemplified the level their unification had reached. "Tennessee" off of The Harrow & The Harvest's gracefully moved into the hymn "I'll Fly Away", where the crowd rhythmically clapped and enthusiastically sang along. Welch and Rawlings looped over the chorus, Rawlings continually yelling out "One more time!", sending the crowd into a joyous revel that only got louder with every pass.

Although it seemed the night had met its end, the crowd stomped loudly shaking the entity of Thalia Hall. Welch and Rawlings returned to the stage for an amazing cover of Jefferson Airplanes' "White Rabbit". It was faithful to the original, but not without its moments of the pair's lovely acoustic twang. If any moment lived up to Rawlings' earlier joke about acoustic trance, it was this one. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings exited the stage for the final time, leaving Thalia Hall in a transcendent daze.

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Emmy / July 8, 2014 8:07 PM

Oh, you are very lucky! I wish I were able to attend any concert/showing of Gillian and Dave. Unfortunately, they rarely do come to California, but when they do I will be sure not to miss it.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

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  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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