Show Review: Dave Rawlings Machine at The Fillmore, 2/9/10

by Gordon Elgart on February 11, 2010

dave-rawlings-excitement

There’s an amazing thing thatĀ  happens when bluegrass musicians get together. Anyone can be in the band at any time playing any song, and everyone will know the whole thing. This happens in jazz and blues, but you’re not going to see a bunch of indie bands trading licks and verses on a flawless version of “Oh Comely” without a little bit of rehearsal. So when Dave Rawlings showed up at The Fillmore with a tight five-piece combo, was there any question the night would end with twice as many musicians on stage?

Admittedly, I was practically dragged to this show. I was the “plus one” for a friend who’s a big bluegrass fan, and although I’ve seen Gillian Welch perform brief sets before (during which I was blown away by Dave Rawlings’ bravura guitar picking), I wasn’t sure I would be entertained throughout a 90-minute set of songs I was unlikely to have heard before. So there I was, nearly three after hours after it began, stomping my foot and singing along with an all-star jam of The Band’s classic, “The Weight.”

dave-rawlings-closeup

The show started quietly enough, as Rawlings was joined by Gillian Welch and three members of Old Crow Medicine Show (Ketch Secor, Morgan Jahning and Willie Watson), and started playing through a set of songs I don’t know. Then, he invited a piano player up on stage whose name I didn’t catch, but the crowd was overly excited to see him. I eventually found out that it was Benmont Tench, founding member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. No wonder everyone was so happy!

I was peacefully enjoying the melodies and harmonies of the music, and the audience was passively enjoying the show, which was not going to keep me going, so I was a bit worried. But then, in the middle of “I Hear Them All,” the band launched into a spirited cover of “This Land Is Your Land,” which perked up my ears as well as those of the crowd. As the excited crowd sang along with the chorus, I started getting into it, and so did the band. Dave Rawlings, as expected, played some blistering guitar licks, and the night was on.

gillian

Now, a big draw for this show was the appearance of Gillian Welch, for whom Rawlings usually performs as backing vocalist and guitarist. This time, some of the roles were reversed. I say some because Welch stillĀ  handled the “thanks for coming” and the band intros, and much of the audience interaction. Her fans were vocal, too, not only bringing her gifts, but also screaming intensely when she took her turn on lead vocals, especially for her “Look at Miss Ohio,” which was a treat for her fans.

warren-hellman

Another highlight was the song “Sweet Tooth” which you can find on his album A Friend of a Friend. It started as a simple duet between Rawlings and Welch, and then Secor and Watson danced on stage and performed a little choreography between turns on their harmonicas. The “song starts slow the ends with intense jamming” formula was repeated throughout the night, and worked every time. This was a killer band. And the band kept getting bigger. The first guest, who played on the last song of the first set, was Warren Hellman, who was on stage at The Fillmore for the first time, an honor long due for someone this important to San Francisco music.

Later, we saw appearances by Peter Rowan, Mike McKinley, and Sean Watkins, all of whom took turns on the microphone, and joined the band for the celebratory encore. Each of them seemed excited to be on stage with such top-notch talent, and the crowd screamed with pleasure when each was announced. (As a bluegrass novice, I was saying “who?” and looking them up on Wikipedia, but I eventually “got it.”)

dave-rawlings-machine

Finally, at 11:15, when there was no one left backstage to invite up to play with them, they all played “The Weight” to an overjoyed audience, passing the lead vocal around the band. What was telling about this is that Dave Rawlings didn’t even take a solo verse. This summed up the evening for me. This show was billed as the Dave Rawlings Machine, and while his name was on the proverbial marquee, he was happy to simply be the glue that held together the all-star band that he created throughout. At the end of the night, no one in the audience was disappointed that he wasn’t a microphone hog. In fact, I’m pretty sure they would have stayed for another hour if the band kept playing. Me too.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline Hernandez February 11, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Not to mention the amazing dynamic between Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch. I’ve never seen two musicians read each other so well. They played seamlessly together.

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Jason LeRoy February 14, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Excellent photos (and review)! Wish I could have been there. Saw Dave (with Gillian) at GAMH last summer, and have seen Gillian (with Dave) numerous times before that. Never less than amazing. Gillian needs to get a new album out, though. It’s been…seven years? Yikes.

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