Wow. Take all your expectations of Gillian Welch’s mournful voice and David Rawlings’s flawless guitar riffs from your favorite albums, whether it be the most recent The Harrow and the Harvest or the now 14 year-old Revival, and sum them all into one balmy evening. If you add a bit more guitar and bit more emotion, as well as interjections from Gillian and David, you just might have what we had the pleasure of experiencing August 3 at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Fans from all walks of life were pleased– old fans who had been with Gil since the beginning, or new hip 20-somethings who heard them on NPR. There were children with mothers, falling asleep to the lullaby sounds of slower numbers, and curly-topped youngsters bouncing to the banjo lines, and of course, the Rawlings tune “Sweet Tooth“. The brief rain couldn’t put a damper on anyone, not even Gillian and David. They were pleased with the temperature drop and claimed it wasn’t raining, just “really humid”. The rain brought more people to the front, some to dance, others to take cover in the overhang, and more still just to get closer to their folk idols. As a huge Gillian Welch fan, this was probably one of the best shows I’ve been to so far this year. Local artists came out, surely paying homage to one of their influences– I think I saw some members from Kickin’ Grass Band, Mandolin Orange, and Midtown Dickens.
Gillian and David get the award for mixing the new and the old impeccably. The crowd was especially pleased with “Red Clay Halo”, “Caleb Meyer”, and of course, “Orphan Girl” was requested at least a dozen times (though, notably, not performed). As an Ohio native, one of my favorites was “Look at Miss Ohio,” closely followed by one of the encores “Six White Horses”. Their minimalist sound and traditional instrumentation was perfect for this North Carolinian show, providing a sense of belonging when playing “Tear my Stillhouse Down”.
I will admit that I probably cried at least twice during the show, enjoying Welch’s melancholy melodies and bittersweet harmonies of Rawlings. I wanted to quit looking like such a wuss so I started focusing on the precision of David’s guitar. Then I got caught in a predicament– whether to focus on the guitar or the vocals. I was soon comforted by a fellow DJ’s insight; Gillian’s voice and David’s guitar complete each other. Awww.
This was the third of four shows I plan on attending at the North Carolina Museum of Art this summer; the line up has been so amazing. Check out blogs about Bela Fleck, Lucinda Williams, and soon to come, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. As always, if you’re looking for the best in Americana, tune in to Americana, Blues, and Company every Saturday from 10-noon.
Ever since the release of Hymns for a Dark Horse on local label Burlytime Records, Bowerbirds have been destined for big things. In short order, the record garnered glowing reviews from indie trendsetters Pitchfork Media and Prefix magazine and rose to the top of WKNC’s indie rock charts. Within a year they were signed to big-time indie-folk imprint Dead Oceans (part of Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar) and went on to tour with the Mountain Goats. Simply put, the Bowerbirds rose through the ranks of the music world at a meteoric rate.
Bowerbirds’ music is characterized by uniquely minimalist arrangements and melodies paired to stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and their debut LP is a concept album of sorts; its 12 songs discuss the conflicts of civilization versus the nature and humanity.
Naturally, with such material, you might consider Bowerbirds to be a ’cause band,’ and, indeed, they tackle the subject of environmentalism with fairly blunt words. Through clever songwriting, though, they avoid the adversarial tone that so many bands with a cause seem to convey; instead, they radiate an earthy idealism that wouldn’t seem too out of place in a Thoreau novel.
Nowhere is it more clear that Bowerbirds is an exceptional band than in concert. With even more sparce instrumentation than in thier album, they manage to create an even more full sound. They will be the final performers Friday night at the Double Barrel Benefit, taking the stage after Schooner.