Gillian Welch at The State Theatre
Earlier this week my friend The Lawyer asked me if I would be interested at all in going to a Gillian Welch concert with he and his wife. Free concert? Good seats? Yeah sure, I was interested. The name was familiar to me. I know that part of it is we sit around The Lawyer's front yard quite a lot quaffing wine and admiring our joint garden. While there he pipes music though the speakers he had wired a couple of years back. Often times I think Gillian is in the mix he plays. But I felt like I knew the name outside of that. Sunday night, State Theater? Sign us up!
I feel like this was a show where the audience saved it. When Gillian walked out on stage she looked unhappy. She looked tired. The night before she had played Praire Home Companion in St. Paul, the night before that somewhere else. Her head was down. She picked up her guitar and launched into the first song, she looked bored, like she didn't want to be playing for the half capacity audience of the State Theatre. But at the end of that first song, the applause was wildly energetic and it was like she woke up. She looked up at us as if for the first time, a mix of confusion and happiness on her face. By the third song I almost feel like she was saying "wow!" about all of us clapping wildly to songs and solos. In return she gave us a great show.
The bulk of the heavy lifting on guitar was done by David Rawlings. I was impressed. I have never before in my life seen such a lot of notes played above the 15th fret. On one song I am pretty sure he put the capo on twelve! Wow. It was some amazing guitar playing, it was some amazing energy on an acoustic guitar. He was dressed in western style. Olive pants and jacket, collarless light green shirt buttoned all the way up. No string tie. --I bet he owns one though. Visually he was a cowboy hat with a strong chin descending from the shadow of the brim, nothing more. But I have never seen anyone dressed in such attire pogo while whaling on a guitar.
Before the show, Ms Lawyer, an attorney herself was commenting on the number of women in short skirts and cowboy boots. She had seen three and I think spotted the fourth as we talked. Not a usual fashion choice in the area I realized after she brought it up. Again, not really aware of what the music was, only vaguely remembering the word bluegrass from reading the opening paragraph of Gillian's wikipedia page earlier in the week, I suggested that maybe that was what brought it out(?). Not long into the first song, once Gillian was on stage, I realized this was a symbol of the band.
It was funny because like I said I felt like I knew Gillian's name and music from before, but I couldn't really place it until I heard her sing her song _Fly Away_ and immediately recognized it as one of my favorites from the movie _Oh Brother, Where Art Thou_. Later a little google research showed me she had several musical credits in that movie.
My only complaint on the show was I thought sometimes the vocals were a little booming, and sort of overpoweringly loud. Maybe further back in the auditorium they needed the boost? I doubt it though. I bet the State is acoustically pretty good. I think the sound guy could have been tuned a little better.
Before the doors opened I was out in the lobby standing next to local musician, Jeff White. Later, during the show I couldn't help but think of him because it seemed like the type of show he could gain lots of inspiration from. When I think of a local artist most similar to the style of David Rawlings, Jeff would be the first person to mind. So it was really great seeing him there, listening to the music he loves and later loves to achieve. I am happy these off night shows exist if for no other reason than to allow these music lovers who work so hard to entertain us, to be entertained for a bit.
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I have described The Lawyer to people and I always say he is the oddest friend I have ever had. By which I mean he is my first grownup friend. See most of my odd lot of friends are always going through crisis, between jobs, raising kids, short of cash, ill dressed, and some of them with the occasional visits to the pokie …you know, regular folks. And then there is this guy with a long time steady job, well kept house with a mortgage he pays on time, who chooses to wear a necktie at work. Even his grey coiffure is in order. What drew us together, beyond the fact that he lives two doors down, was music. Us going to shows (late of course) and finding him already there.
So now as I think about this article, I realize the last three shows that have stood out in my memory I have now seen with this guy. Not that I have been to a huge number since spring began, but they were memorable shows, just not enough time to write about them.
The first of those was played out in the basement of a house in Eau Claire. It had been many, many years since I had been to a basement show. They haven't changed though. This one was just like I remember them being. It was packed. Loud. Most everyone there was under age except for the two guys who were conspicuously not so. The band was the Vancouver based Weed, fronted by the Lawyer's son. Also sadly typical of basement shows two songs after I arrived the speaker blew out on the vocals amp. From that point on the vocals sounded sort of like they passed through a kazoo on the way to my ear. Damn shame because what I heard before the breakdown was some fantastic heavy metal.
Then, just a couple of weeks ago he called to tell me the same son was managing a touring band called The Courtneys who were opening for Tegan and Sara and another band at First Ave in the cities. Free tickets as guest of the band? Heck yeah, I'll go!
I knew nothing about the music. Nothing at all. But when we pulled up in front of First Avenue about 6:30 it was raining hard. Doors opened at 7pm and the line wrapped around the building all the way to the end of the block. …Ok, so it would seem I have been missing out on something. I enjoyed all three bands. The Courtneys, I think it was their more traditional punk rock music sound that made them my favorites at the end of the evening. But as time has gone on, a few weeks later and I am still listening to a couple of Tegan and Sara songs. So yeah, maybe a bit more depth there.
A couple of funny moments. One, The Courtneys talked about spending the night in Chippewa Falls. They did a garage band practice while here and so on stage they talked about pissing off the neighbors. Not to worry, the neighbor was currently in the audience and I had my windows open and was enjoying the melodies the day before. The other was just the situation I was in. These are chick bands, and lesbian chicks at that. I'm at a show, right? So where do I want to be? Center of the floor about four rows back. The floor was packed. Looking around where I stood, I could see about four guys and an equal number in the "maybe" column. Estrogen fumes were intense. But I was having a great time and I am really happy I went. I get sort of cynical because I live where I do and I see these really great local bands who really throw down on stage. They are leaving their pint of blood and then some, working their heart out to put on a great show. Then I go to the city where I pay ma$$ive dollar$ to see some national act on a big stage and they are just going through the motions. I am really glad it isn't all like that. I am glad to see bands that still work hard to put on a great show and make an audience happy. Thanks Tegan and Sara!