It’s possible that no artist gets closer to the purity and soul of acoustic music better than duo Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Their soulful voices and understated playing cast a hypnotic spell over an enthralled audience at Chautauqua Auditorium Tuesday night in the last show of the season at the “old barn,” as Welch referred to it.
The duo set the tone right from the first two songs in their two-set performance, opening with “Tear My Stillhouse Down,” from their debut album “Revival,” and following with “Scarlet Town,” the opening track from their recently-released album “The Harrow and the Harvest.” Though they spotlighted many tracks from that disk, they also dug deep into their catalog, hitting all the right notes on a folksy “One Morning” and a dreamy “My Morphine,” from “Hell Among the Yearlings.” They also, surprisingly, avoided some of their more popular songs like “Orphan Girl” and “Caleb Meyer.”
Perhaps that was due in no small part to the adoring crowd, which Welch thanked for being “so well behaved,” although she also said it was throwing them for a loop. Rawlings adroitly played to the crowd with a story about how Boulder’s personality had revealed itself to them that morning, when a black SUV with windows rolled down and “too many subwoofers” had pulled up next to them. It was, he said, “a car that you would expect to hear Lil Wayne coming from, but it was streaming the feed from ‘All Things Considered.'” Welch had started laughing as soon as Rawlings mentioned the SUV, so in step were the pair.
While Rawlings played brilliant guitar lines on most of the set, Welch switched from guitar to banjo on a few tunes, including “Hard Times.” She also used her cowboy boots as a percussion effect on the fun and danceable “Six White Horses,” when Rawlings switched to banjo.
Though at heart, Welch and Rawlings blend Americana, Appalachian murder ballads, bluegrass and gospel, the pair touch on other forms as well. Rawlings brilliant solo on a mesmerizing “Revelator” seemed to echo the solo from Prince’s “Purple Rain,” while Welch riffed on the line “when he’s all drunk” on the second set closing cover of Eric Andersen’s “Dusty Boxcar Wall.”
Welch and Rawlings returned for two encores, doing the slow “Down Along Dixie Line” and “The Way the Whole Thing Ends,” then sending the crowd home to something upbeat with a take on the Johnny Cash/June Carter popularized rave-up “Jackson.”
Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder based photographer of everything, a self-professed music junkie and regular contributor to Reverb. Check his photos out on Facebook or his website.