Gillian Welch/David Rawlings, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherds Bush Empire, London

"We love playing here," Gillian Welch told us more than once, and since she and her musical soul-mate David Rawlings were on for more than two hours, this was more than mere showbiz flattery. Armed only with two guitars, two voices and a big bag of songs that sound as old as the Appalachian mountains, Welch and Rawlings manage to ignite their remarkable chemistry every time they walk out in front of an audience.

Boy-girl vocal combinations often don't work, but Rawlings's supple harmonies snuggle alongside Welch's sharper tones like a watercolourist tinting in perspectives. Without drums and bass, it's mostly left to Rawlings to supply the rhythmic propulsion by keeping up an extraordinary running narrative on guitar, swapping between ringing chords and spider-fingered runs in kinetic perpetual motion.

Their songs are so doom-laden they keep making jokes about it. April 14th Part 1 and Ruination Day Part 2 encompass the Titanic disaster and Abraham Lincoln's assassination, while in Time (The Revelator) you can sense the heavy tread of armageddon. Elvis Presley Blues makes you feel you're at a seance rather than a gig, and Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor is a bone-weary blues. Welch wrung even more hopelessness out of Radiohead's Black Star than Thom Yorke.

For the encores, the duo brought out support band Old Crow Medicine Show, who look like a bunch of half-starved share-croppers. They essayed a gratifyingly roughshod Hickory Wind, while the Medicine Show's raw, keening voices lent extra resonance to The Weight. Finally Welch and Rawlings came back to sing an appropriately spectral Long Black Veil. In short, absolutely fabulous.


Adam Sweeting

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Gillian Welch/ David Rawlings, Barbican, London

Barbican, London

Adam Sweeting

09, Dec, 2002 @2:28 AM

Gillian Welch, City Hall, Sheffield

City Hall, Sheffield

James Griffiths

27, Aug, 2003 @1:15 AM

Article image
CD: Gillian Welch: Soul Journey

(Acony/Warner Music UK)

Betty Clarke

30, May, 2003 @12:19 AM

Article image
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings review – a dark, masterful journey through American history
The Nashville-based duo’s sparse, harrowing country music may have a high bodycount, but their real talent is bringing their characters to life

Martin Farrer

09, Feb, 2016 @12:49 AM

Article image
Have you seen Gillian Welch live?
Adam Boult: Several readers have recently been to see the singer-songwriter on her UK tour. Here's what they had to say …

Adam Boult

24, Nov, 2011 @10:47 AM

Article image
Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland; Gillian Welch – review
Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland – Coldplay Redux – take a break from arenas and stadiums, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

27, Nov, 2011 @12:06 AM

Article image
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: All the Good Times review – lockdown covers of Dylan and Prine
The pandemic hangs heavy in the long-term duo’s first album to share joint billing, and thrives when Welch leads

Jude Rogers

19, Feb, 2021 @8:30 AM

I was getting on so well with Gillian Welch. Then David Cameron butts in | Stewart Lee

Stewart Lee: The news that the prime minister attended a gig by the singer is, quite frankly, the final straw

Stewart Lee

12, Feb, 2012 @12:04 AM

Article image
David Rawlings: Poor David’s Almanack review – his most Welch-like release by far
The guitar great delves deep into rural America on his third solo outing

Kitty Empire

06, Aug, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Gillian Welch: The Harrow & the Harvest – review
Welch and Rawlings reap what they sow with a perfect 10, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

25, Jun, 2011 @11:05 PM