There’s No Depression in Heaven: Gillian Welch in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 18, 2011
While there may be no depression in heaven, there are many hearts of darkness in the music of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
As we hit Charlottesville, Virginia for our second of several stops on the East Coast leg of the tour that ends on December 1 at the Ryman, there was, fittingly it seemed, a Mennonite choir singing hymns on the downtown plaza. Men in their khakis and women in their colorful dresses and bonnets contrasted with the students, professionals and alternative types in this college town that oozes privilege.
The long sold out show was in the town’s showcase performance center, The Paramount, in the middle of the downtown scene that features a dozen live music venues along a five block long corridor. Also playing that night were cajun, soul, honky tonk, jazz and live karaoke. Quite a mix. And that’s just those that we sampled well into a very good night.
As with all the other performances on this tour, Gil and Dave mixed up the set list considerably while doing nine of the new songs. (Set list below) They gave another moving performance, including ‘My Morphine,’ ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ and Dave’s rousing ‘I Hear Them All.’ All high points, with no filler. No wasted energy, they were in the groove.
Yes, many hearts of darkness are explored — and left unresolved — in the new songs, not to mention the older ones as well. This has become a standard acknowledgement by David, lovingly stated without irony.
The new songs have moved geographically from my Appalachia to a rural South, extending the tradition of Stephen Foster, Eudora Welty and Faulkner. They explore the many depressions we, individually and as a people, have faced: economic, emotional, religious, addictions and the loss of friends, lovers, times and an even a beloved farm animal, a working mule.
Yet, unlike, say Leonard Cohen, their songs do not leave you strung out. Perhaps, while similar areas are presented, they are not the result of a manic depression. More likely, they have a greater sense of and capacity for empathy. No matter who the protagonist is — other than Caleb Meyer, of course — few, if any, judgements are made — and self-righteous manipulation, no matter how well-intended, is absent.
The more I listen to the new songs — even though is was released only six weeks ago, “The Harrow and The Harvest” has already become my most played album of the past several years — the more certain specific phrases catch my attention. Like the last line in ‘Dark Turn of Mind’ where you may be expecting the word “cursed” you find “blessed.” Any one who has faced many nights alone, with its attendant mysteries and sounds open to anyone who knows how to listen knows where that leads.
‘The Way the Whole Thing Ends’ sounds like a sweeter ‘Postively 4th Street’ with what could be several Dylan references included. And I absolutely adore how the cornbread crumbles because, cornbread, unlike cookies, crumbles only when it’s stale.
And unless my auditory memory fails me, it appears to me that David has not only added some new and invigorating licks to the older songs, but his playing has added an extra dimension, become even more resonant. It is something that can only be appreciated in seeing him perform live.
The Charlottesville audience was a respectful and an appreciate one, perhaps a little too much so as they also seemed to lack a certain amount of ambient energy. Not a criticism, an observation. That said, there was no lack of participation when Gil thigh slapped and clogged her way through ‘Six White Horses’ with Dave soloing on banjo. It was quite a treat.
After the final encore of ‘I’ll Fly Away’ the audience quietly exited the grand hall with only four of us hanging out in the lobby with the merch rep before those lights too were finally doused.
It was as if we were living out Edith Wharton’s comment on culture in America: If there’s one thing Americans enjoy as much as going to an event, it’s the leaving.
All photos by Amos Perrine, with the kind permission of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, The Paramount, Charlottesville, Virginia, August 18, 2011