Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Take My Advice

There are any number of different ways in which a concert becomes a truly memorable night. There are the "I don't really know who this band is but somebody told me they were really good so here I am" nights that blow your mind. The Pixies in the Entry on the Surfer Rosa tour comes to mind, after a new friend had played one tune for me and I'd checked out their in-store at Northern Lights. Oooh, dating myself with that reference, eh? Don't even ask me what year that was? '88?

Or there are the nights when you're just there working, and the synergy of the music, the crowd, and the personalities of the musicians make for a really fun night. The Bajofondo show at Global Roots last fall was one of those in recent memory. Very professional show, interesting and diverse crowd got way into it and the band was just very fun to work with in the green room.

Then there's the "I know every note of this band's repetoir and I want them to play all my faves." NOMO came close to that for me the other night at the Cedar. Damn, that was fun. I got so psyched during the sound check I had to call my sister and let her hear some of their "Rings" intro loop. Whoops, I was supposed to be working right then, wasn't I? The expectations were high and NOMO exceeded them. Plus they were nice guys, too. Hung around all night and graciously received a lot of high fives from strangers and brand new fan converts.

I know I've linked to this vid before and it's several years old, but it's the only halfway decent thing out there of these guys. Plus they closed with "Nu Tones" here Friday, heading down into the audience while people gathered around them and sang along. Yes, all their songs are instrumental, thus the italics.

The first time David Rawlings and Gillian Welch played the Cedar was one of those memorable nights where a friend had put a couple tunes on a mixtape, then gathered a posse to check out the show. They sold out the place on a Monday night, a rare feat in this town. Hell Among the Yearlings was freshly out and Gillian's banjo playing was this precious novelty, simple melody lines that were so haunting and true with songs like "One Morning" and "The Devil Had A Hold Of Me." It was one of those coulda-heard-a-pin-drop kind of nights.

Another time they were part of an Ani DiFranco tour along with Greg Brown. I remember hiking up three flights of stairs to the dressing rooms at the Northrup to pick up dirty dishes, and finding a rousing session jamming away up there, David and Gillian leading the charge with some local pals of theirs. Ani sat on the edges, clapping along and grinning her head off. (I believe Greg had a bottle of whiskey at that point - hey, it was pre-Iris Dement for him, y'know.)

With those two it was always the synergy. David's high harmonies as a foil to Gillian's amber alto. David's complex flat picking to Gillian's solid rhythm lines. His gentle humor to Gillian's more serious stage demeanor. His baggy suits to her vintage dresses. His herky-jerky motion to her lanky elegance. Not for nothing did he sing "I'll be Emmy Lou and you be Gram" on "I Dream a Highway" from Time (the Revelator.) The first three discs they made together were touchstones for a generation of younger Americana/new grass musicians and those tunes have been covered by artists from Joan Baez to Crooked Still.

Here a very vintage (1996) clip of "Caleb Meyer" with a classic Gillian intro about having to play at least one "killin' song."

So when Gillian's first disc without as much of David came out, it just wasn't the same. Sure she had a bunch of Nashville sidemen and probably a big budget for Soul Journey, but the edge was lost somehow. David kept busy in the years that followed writing songs for folks like Bright Eyes, Robyn Hitchcock and Ryan Adams as well as producing bands such as Old Crow Medicine Show.

You know I will be right in there to check out David's new project when they roll into town next month. The David Rawling Machine will feature Gillian on harmony vocals as well as members of Old Crow, so we'll get a bit fuller sound. Hope we get to hear their Guit-jo. Surely we'll get to hear the warm tones of David's little 1935 archtop Epiphone. Other than that, I'm not sure what to expect other than I know it'll be a special evening

Look for David and Gillian as the proprieters of the "Exotic Ladies" booth at the circus in Old Crow's "Wagon Wheel" video.

You can just count this as one of those "A friend told me I'd better check out this show" pieces of advice, then, OK?

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