There's a big, bad snowstorm rolling into town tonight. But on Monday night, the eve of the storm, I was part of a sellout crowd that found a port at the High Noon Saloon with the Dave Rawlings Machine. My background knowledge of the band amounted to little more than tangential song associations, a brief guest appearance by David Rawlings at Largo, and the new album I only managed to play once before the concert. Multiple glowing reviews from a certain friend were enough, however, to convince me this was a show I ought to check out.
The night got off to an energetic start with "Monkey and the Engineer," soon followed by a seamless melding of "Candyman" and "Dear Landlord." Gillian pointed out that not every brain would naturally connect those two songs, but clearly David Rawlings has got what it takes. The show continued for nearly two and a half hours; more bang for my buck than I'm used to getting from local shows. Ketch Secor, Willie Watson, and Morgan Jahnig from Old Crow Medicine Show were on stage for the majority of that time, adding wonderful vocal and instrumental accompaniments ... and making me think that next time OCMS is in town, I might want to get on that.
Many details made an impression on me over the course of the evening. David and Gillian's harmonies were superb, blending together into one full voice. Dave's fingerpicking skills are beyond my comprehension. It was fun to watch the interactions between Ketch and Dave, whether Ketch was on fiddle, harmonica, or vocals. The crowd was enthusiastic without veering over to obnoxious (always a danger at a bar), and there was lots of friendly engagement from the stage. There was a tale about Santa Cruz and a trail of toilet paper. The band's dinner at the Eldorado Grill inspired the addition of "Diamond Joe," to the setlist, which prompted a story about Ramblin' Jack Elliott's 35-minute version of the song. Gillian explained that the only thing they know about the Rawlings Machine so far is that it wears denim ... in fact, it may produce denim. Some of that denim was in danger Monday night, as Dave kept nearly losing his pants. A good samaritan in front of me took off his own belt and passed it forward, where it was received with gratitude and donned without delay. "I didn't want to give it to you," confessed the woman up front who'd handed the belt over. I could sympathize.
We heard more songs than I can recall now. A rollicking gospel tune, "He Will Set Your Fields On Fire." "Cortez the Killer" may soon rival "Ring of Fire" as the song I've seen covered the most times. Although twice I think Dave Rawlings has been involved, so perhaps I'm overestimating. During one of the periods when the OCMS guys left the stage to just Dave and Gill, Dave announced that it was time for Gillian to sing a song. "We don't do this one too much, but we're going to play it for you tonight. We've had a lot of requests for it. I mean ... not from you guys. From other people who won't get to hear it." That song was "Wrecking Ball."
After the main set the band returned for an encore, which included "Queen Jane Approximately," "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" and Gillian's "Look at Miss Ohio." The last song (because unlike some audience members, Dave noted, they know how to pace a set) was "The Weight." Gillian took the first verse, then Dave, then Willie, then Ketch, then all four together. I couldn't imagine a more satisfying ending to the show. Except, maybe, for the second encore. The four vocalists returned to the stage and gathered around one microphone sans instruments for "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby" - accompanied by the crowd on stomp percussion.
"We've been watching the weather," Dave remarked toward the end of the night. "We play tomorrow in Minneapolis ... and then in Omaha." Laughter and shouts of "good luck!" rang out. When he explained that they planned to blow out of town that night, trying to get to Minneapolis before things got bad, the crowd protested loudly. Dave laughed. "Or we could stay and play here tomorrow, too," he suggested. "Just stick around." Even in a blizzard, I guarantee they'd have an audience.