Gillian Welch @ The Grand Canal Theatre, 17th Nov. 2011

Was the Gillian Welch concert one of the gigs of a lifetime? Yes. As a fellow audience member said ‘it was as close to perfect as is possible.’ It was an eager audience – tickets had been sold out for ages. After listening to Gillian’s own mix CD Gil and David came onstage at about 8:15 with Gil in her trademark dress and cowboy boots (a look later nicked by – of all people – Taylor Swift) and David in his neat grey suit and a face-concealing Stetson hat he got from James Monroe, Mr Bill Monroe’s son.

They went back to the very first album, Revival, to start the night with Gil’s Tear My Stillhouse Down and the great contrast of Gillian’s rock-solid flat top guitar rythmn playing against David’s intricate picking on his arch-top Epiphone is as characteristic and gorgeous as it always has been. In two 50 minute sets, plus 5 encores they played most of the new album The Harrow and the Harvest and songs from each of the other albums with particularly strong versions of Elvis Presley Blues, Revelator, No One Knows My Name, the still chilling Caleb Meyer and Look at Miss Ohio.

Their version of Six White Horses from the new album was a particular delight with David playing banjo and harmonica while Gil hamboned (used her body as and hands as a percussion instrument) and clog-danced, wryly commenting afterwards that she had intended to learn a fancy new clog-step ahead of the tour, but that ‘it just hadn’t happened’.

The encores raised the evening even higher – which I’d doubted was possible – with cover versions of O Brother’s I’ll Fly Away followed by the Johnny Cash/June Carter stalwart Jackson but culminating in an extraordinary choice, gorgeously played, of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. It was incongruous and absolutely…perfect.

While Gillian switched between guitar and banjo – and occasionally added harmonica – Dave stayed with his guitar excepting Six White Horses. His playing, particulary in his solos, continues to astound; I sometimes feel he gets himself into beautiful places that it will be impossible to get out of, but each time he resolves the solo and amazes his listeners. They are two halves whose sum really is greater than its parts. Gil’s singing apart from David, as in O Brother, is wonderful and his playing on his solo album and other projects is great, but I feel that they achieve an energy working together that is unique and unsurpassable – and we in the audience were blown away by it in the Grand Canal Theatre last Thursday. What a night!

Review by Sandy Harsch, Photograph by Ronnie Norton