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Concert Review: Dave Rawlings Machine at the Paradise

David Rawlings
David Rawlings

Here’s my surefire remedy for temporary relief of serious back pain: Start with some exquisite acoustic guitar solos. Add some beautiful harmonies. And a dash of dueling fiddles with some tasty harmonica.

This works so well you might even find yourself moving your hips a little when you could just barely stand upright hours earlier.

Yes, my solution has a name. It’s the Dave Rawlings Machine and for three hours Saturday night at the Paradise I forgot all about my woes because Rawlings, backed by his more famous partner Gillian Welch and a trio of great musicians  — fiddler Ketch Secor and bassist Morgan Jahnig from Old Crow Medicine Show and fiddler/guitarist Gabe Witcher of the Punch Brothers — performed some serious magic onstage.

Gillian may be more popular with the masses but Rawlings guitar work is like no one else: it’s melodic, it’s intricate, it weaves in and out like Jerry Garcia used to do but never meanders. The group is absolutely tight. When Gillian is in charge (billed as Gillian Welch), she takes the lead and, yes, her vocal prowess is stronger than his. But the beauty of The Machine is that they really swing — they almost rock those acoustic instruments. I didn’t keep a set list so I’ll do what I can from memory.

First they started a little bit late when one of the roadies tripped over something, knocked over a table and nearly busted the bass. Once that was cleared up, on came the Machine starting off with “Monkey and the Engineer.” Most of the set was made up of Dave’s “A Friend of a Friend” album.  “I Hear Them All” was in there early with “This Land Is Your Land” sandwiched in the middle of the song.  The beautiful “Ruby” shined with Gillian’s amazing harmony vocals backing his. She and Dave were just meant to sing together. They just seem to fill in each other’s empty spaces like no pair I can think of.

Next they broke out the banjo (maybe for “It’s Too Easy,” not exactly sure) to roars of cheers from the crowd, and Gillian exclaiming that Boston is a banjo lovin’ town.

One of my favorite moments was when the other musicians left the stage and Dave and Gill played their unreleased song, which I know as “Throw Me a Rope” (others call it “The Way It Should Be”). After the first verse, Gill stopped abruptly saying she couldn’t go on because Dave’s guitar was so out of tune. They started up again and that song is just mesmerizing. If Gill doesn’t put out a new album soon and include that… well… I keep telling myself it’s coming.

Then Gill got to lead a couple tunes of her own. A request for “Red Clay Halo” (the banjo again) and “Miss Ohio.” And I think just before the end of the set, Gabe Witcher led the group through The Band’s “Ophelia.” It’s funny I had just seen Witcher a week before with the Punch Brothers opening for Josh Ritter. I didn’t recognize him fully until they mentioned who he was.

After a short break, they came back for a second set that included a bunch of songs about candy, including “Sweet Tooth,” “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and a third one. Then the exquisite pair of “Method Acting”/”Cortez the Killer” and “How About You” was in there somewhere.

I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff, but it was all so great. I haven’t said much about Ketch Secor, but his fiddle and harmonica playing adds so much to the sound as does his baritone voice. The main set ended with Dylan’s “Queen Jane Aproximately.”

They came back for two encores and the crowd was rocking. I’ve seen Gillian and Dave a couple times before but I’ve never seen such a rowdy, excited crowd — and they knew almost all the words to the songs.

The first encore included three tunes: “Too Be Young (Is to be Sad)” and “The Weight” and I cannot remember the third — maybe someone can recall.

They left the stage and came back again to a huge roar. They all stood center stage around one mike and sang the a cappella “Go to Sleep Little Baby,” with the crowd clapping along and Gillian adding a stomp and a clap for emphasis. They left the stage again to more roars. It was a great night.

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