Gillian Welch @ Palais Theatre

welch_g_1-600x340I had such great time at this concert. Beautiful venue and incredibly enthusiastic audience; I’m used to the Melbourne crowd being reserved, but from the moment Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, her musical partner (and amazing guitarist), walked onstage they got nothing but cheers and rapturous applause throughout the show. People even cheered mid-song after instrumental interludes, which I’ve never seen before. Maybe it’s just that the country music fans are a lot more passionate than indie hipsters? I say “country”, but Welch’s music is a tad hard to categorise. Wikipedia helpfully describes it as sparse and dark musical style, which combines elements of Appalachian music, bluegrass, and Americana. I also found out that “G” in “Gillian” sounds like “g” in “guild” and not “gem”. You learn something new every day.

The concert was unusual in other respects as well; there was no supporting act and instead they had a short break, during which I dashed out to move my car since I parked it in a 1.5 hr spot. My common sense told me that there was no way a show would start on the dot at 8.00pm, but my literal brain wouldn’t hear it and insisted that I don’t drive around for a better spot on a busy Friday evening with good weather and tons of revellers around St Kilda.

I’m generally not a country music fan, and for some reason when I do connect with it it’s always with female singers rather than male (though I do love a couple of Johnny Cash songs). I’m only familiar with Welch’s last album, The Harrow & The Harvest, which I thought was brilliant; they played most of the tracks from it, including Tennessee, my absolute favourite of hers, and older material which I enjoyed as well. One particular old song, Revelator, was just spellbinding, and her tough, lived-in voice is amazing to hear live. Most of all I loved the warm, intimate atmosphere of the gig and the obvious chemistry and connection between Welch and Rawlings, which was instantly palpable from my seat up up up in the dress circle. From my long concert-going experience, there are performers who come off best when you watch them up-close but who somehow lose the connection when you physically move further away, and then there are performers who can fill the whole auditorium with their personality and interactions. These two are firmly in the latter category. Welch also made for a striking-looking presence, barefoot in her long dress and with her long, slender arms wrapped around the guitar; I didn’t always get their in-between songs banter partly because of their accents, but that was ok. I think this was also the first time I’ve been to a gig with not one, not two, but three encores!

The concert was so great I seriously considered getting a T-shirt for the memories, but $50 for a so-so design, a week before my payday… hmm no.

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