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.

Contributor

Adam Sweeting

The GuardianTramp

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