Wolf’s In The House: Valentine’s Day with Dave Rawlings Machine
I don’t know how you spent your Valentine’s—but the high point of mine was watching Gillian Welch swaying solemnly over her guitar in a cornflower blue, paisley dress while Dave Rawlings, body electrified, eyes closed, played facing the opposite direction. The two seemingly disappeared inside the music and the red and blue lights of the Showbox—then surfaced in unison, to sing: Just like an old-time telegraph man / I came here with a simple job to do / ‘Cause that news coming down the wire / Says that your head’s on fire / And I’m trying to get a message through to you.
If love could be better exemplified, I don’t know how. Maybe if several members of Old Crow Medicine Show come sauntering onto the stage mid-“Sweet Tooth” and did a little chorus line shimmy? Or Benmont Tench accompanies a Rawlings version of “Stop Dragging My Heart Around?”
The stage looked like a jailbreak—the band all decked in denim, steadily rotating on and off the scene, playing their hearts out like they’d recently been paroled. After two long sets and two encores, it seemed like they might go all night. I felt Dave Rawlings’ moniker of “Machine” was fully earned.
Rawlings is celebrating his long time coming, debut album, A Friend of a Friend, whose title embodies much of what this musician is all about. Producer, writer/co-writer, and accompanist, Rawlings is a giver and right now he’s reaping some serious returns.
“I need to check your banjo readiness,” Rawlings says with a big grin at the start of the show. “We like to play,” he laughs, before giving a locomotive performance of “Monkey and the Engineer.” Rawlings plays on this little guitar, a 1935 Epiphone Olympic, which I know nothing about, other than it sounds amazing when he plays it.
Staying true to the inclusive spirit of the evening, we heard from Guthrie, Monroe, Dylan and other influences. At the start of the second set, Rawlings and Welch began playing the old murder ballad, “Banks of the Ohio,” which was intended as a kind of Valentine’s Day joke. Rawlings says if you learn anything from those old ballads it’s “never to walk alone on the banks of a river, or ever go on a date with anybody named Willie.”
Speaking of Willies, we heard the most seductive, drowsy version of “CC Rider” ever, from Old Crow vocalist Willie Watson, which was followed with “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
Late in the show the boys let Welch sing one. After holding the crowd in a heightened state of wonder through “Lowlands,” Rawlings chimed, “I think we’ll let her sing another one.”
To which Welch quipped, “He’s letting me sell my records at the merch table, too.”
I watched from the back of the house, near one of The Shining-esque bars, with a friend who was dying to get backstage to see Old Crow Ketch Secor’s hairdo up close. The show certainly had that appeal. And I don’t think it was all because of the holiday.
Rawlings and Welch have an audible magnetism. Their voices lean into each other—carrying one, then the other, then running together into the big river.
The Machine is hot and you need it, if you don’t already own it.
Originally written for City Arts Online in Seattle, Washington.
See NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert with Rawlings and Welch.