Dave Rawlings Machine | 12.12 & 12.19

By: Greg Caruso

Dave Rawlings Machine :: 12.12.08 & 12.19.08 :: The Little Room :: Los Angeles, CA

Rawlings & Welch by Paxtonx
Largo has long played host to the most creative, innovative artists, not only residing in Los Angeles but to those visiting and/or passing through. There was no exception as partners in bluegrass crime David Rawlings and Gillian Welch performed The Little Room (!) at Largo. It certainly isn’t often that such a pair graces the stages of Southern California, let alone one so small. The duo played for three Fridays this winter, which not only sold out, but drew in guests such as iconic multi-instrumentalist and producer extraordinaire Jon Brion, bassist Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing, Neil Finn) and Whispertown 2000 vocalist Morgan Nagler.

The Little Room is reminiscent of its previous location in Fairfax Village, only smaller with no bar and extremely uncomfortable seats. This was the only downside of the two nights spent there. I can understand the lack of alcohol – no one wants to hear registers chiming and glasses clinking – the seating situation, however, was such that after an hour you could visibly see the crowd shifting uncomfortably.

Both nights’ shows started on the late side, around 11:45 p.m., and lasted just past 1:00 a.m. Short sets indeed, but it was most certainly a case of quality over quantity. At the first show, Rawlings and Welch came on bantering about mic placement. The stage being no more than 8-feet by 6-feet, it was obvious there was very little room for them to get comfortable (at least we weren’t alone), and it took them a few minutes each night to get their footing and microphone placement just right. Being such an intimate atmosphere, it was a real treat to see their idiosyncrasies so upfront. At times, their quips were as much the show as their talents.

Obviously, these two know each other backwards and forwards. The shows were billed as Dave Rawlings Machine, and as such much of the song cues came from him, with no hesitation from Welch whatsoever. You don’t often see one half of a duo play a single chord and the other knows exactly what the song is and falls in immediately, as this pair does. It truly is remarkable how in tune they really are. There were a few points each night where their harmonies were so in sync that it almost seemed like they were creating a whole new voice in front of our eyes. Some of each set was known ground and you could tell when they were playing off the cuff, but regardless of familiarity, the passion of their delivery carried every song.

Having never seen either before, I felt not only lucky to be there but especially attentive to their traits as players. It’s obvious that both are completely bathed in traditional bluegrass styles, but they both bring so much more to the table, what with Welch’s angelic, sustaining vocals and the absolute fortitude of Rawlings’ intricate guitar work. At times, it seemed like he was both totally lost in certain songs and exceptionally pleased with his handiwork. He has a style that is not only fluid and technically proficient but also saturated with tonal personality.

Rawlings & Welch by Jenion
On December 12, they brought up Jon Brion on keys and Sebastian Steinberg on upright bass for the last two songs. The first, “To Be Young,” was co-written by Rawlings and Ryan Adams. Sung by Rawlings, the back-up vocals from Welch, Brion and Steinberg provided the perfect accompaniment. Closing the night was a rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” Hearing Welch sing the legendary lyrics had the entire crowd hooting and catcalling. You could tell that everyone was just so enraptured by this pair. Between both nights, it was pleasing to see many familiar faces return for their second and third helpings of such musical charms.

On their third and final night, just as they had the week previous, the duo brought out vocalist Morgan Nagler for a song called “Sweet Tooth.” The song was co-written by the three of them and is a cute, uppity tune about love and a toothache, sung with a lot of funny lyrical interplay between the two subjects. For the final selection of the main set, the duo welcomed up quite the variety of musicians, all Largo staples, of course. Steinberg on upright bass, Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek) and Jon Brion on guitars, Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) on keys and Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers) on fiddle. Though all couldn’t fit on the stage, they each proved their worth by tearing through Neil Young‘s “Time Fades Away,” a rocking version of Rawlings’ “It’s Too Easy” and back to Young with “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World,” replete with Brion mimicking Young’s hard riffs. Throughout all three songs, the versatility of these musicians was showcased in jam to jam to jam.

For the finale, not only for the evening but also the end of the Dave Rawlings Machine’s residency, the duo played Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The song, which has been a staple for the duo in the past, started off as usual but from the very back of the room, Steinberg commenced to lay down a bassline. With Witcher’s fiddle following suit and Brion providing another guitar voice and vocal harmonies, the song turned into a room filling swan song that soon had the crowd singing-along. With thunderous applause, the duo left the stage and the crowd stretched their legs. Such wonderful performances can just fall into your lap at Largo. So, how can we lure Dave Rawlings into touring more? Better yet, let’s give him a permanent residency at Largo, a la Jon Brion. Someone needs to write a letter.

Dave Rawlings Machine:: 12.12.08 :: The Little Room :: Los Angeles, CA
Copper Kettle, Mountain Dew, It’s Too Easy, China Doll, Knuckleball Catcher, Sunny Side Of Life, Ruby, Tired Eyes, Sweet Tooth, Dear Landlord, Candyman, To Be Young (Is Too Be Sad, Is To Be High), White Rabbit

Dave Rawlings Machine:: 12.19.08 :: The Little Room :: Los Angeles, CA
Sin City, Turn Your Radio On, I Hear Them All, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, Knuckleball Catcher, Racing In The Streets, Untitled, Ruby, The Monkey And The Engineer, I’ll Take You Everywhere, Sweet Tooth, Time Fades Away, It’s Too Easy, Rockin’ In The Free World, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

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