The audience of last night's Gillian Welch show at the Brown Theater was transported back in time. Perhaps to Appalachia on some front porch or crowded church hall, perhaps to the glory days of the Grand Ole Opry with the likes of Johnny Cash and June Carter, but transported nonetheless. As the lights dimmed shortly after 7:30 and Gillian Welch and her long-time partner David Rawlings took the stage, time became irrelevant. It didn't matter that it was 2011 or a Tuesday night--the duet's gift for Americana transcended time and place.
Rawlings, in an old grey suit and white cowboy hat, and Welch, in a simple, jean sun-dress and cowboy boots, opened with "Copper Kettle" followed by "Scarlet Town". They stood side-by-side in front of a black-draped table that housed their many musical contraptions, including a box of harmonicas they interchanged throughout the performance, like carnival magicians. And yes, they worked their magic to a very enthusiastic and packed house. It was evident the Tuesday-night concert goers were serious appreciaters of music. From where I sat, I didn't see a single soul stumble down the row for a refill--a first in my experience at the Brown. But you would have to be crazy to miss out on what Welch and Rawlings served in two highly engaging sets.
From the inception of the performance, the audience showed their love and Welch seemed to pick up on that. Each time she reached for the banjo, the crowd would applaud and she and Rawlings joked, "You've proven yourself to be in constant banjo readiness." There were several personal exchanges that made the performance feel intimate and private, like we were seeing something singular and remarkable. Several times I found myself, furrowed brow, emoting with the lyrics, feeling the dark tonalities behind their perfect harmonies that flowed into and supported each other with perfect synchronicity. Not to mention marveling at Rawlings agility on his signature guitar, a 1935 Epiphone Olympic arch-top guitar sans the center hole. Rawlings played soft accompaniment to such songs as "Dixie" to a completely silent and awe-struck crowd and then jammed like no other during guitar solos, especially notable in "Time the Revelator". He played with such fervor he even lost his footing at the end and said with a smirk, "I need to work on sticking the landing."