Dave Rawlings Machine Brings Sheer Bliss To Montana
This is my nightmare. Since I started reviewing live music, I have always feared this exact scenario. I have nothing but the utmost praise to sing for an act, nothing to critique, nothing to naysay. Dave Rawlings Machine is nothing short of amazing.
Having previously seen Gillian Welch perform with Dave alongside her, I thought I kind of knew what to expect upon entering the show, but my expectations fell significantly short of what I saw. Of course, if you know anything about what I have lovingly started to refer to simply as: “The Machine,” you would know that this supergroup is truly one for the ages.
With Gillian Welch on guitar and vocals, Paul Kowert of Punch Brothers on upright bass, Willie Watson formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show on guitar, and John Paul Jones, formerly of a little band called Led Zeppelin on mandolin, Dave Rawlings really built himself one hell of a machine.
This group is the topmost echelon of folk/americana with killer bluegrass elements. Their harmonies could truly give Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young a run for their money. And did I mention they are quite Grateful too!
The show opened with “Monkey and the Engineer,” and this was the first of many tunes the audience would come to recognize over the course of the evening. The first set also featured a smoking “Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” into “Candyman,” before ending with an upbeat number of their debut EP “A Friend of a Friend” called “How’s About You.” This song showcased some fiery bluegrass stylings and amazing mandolin sections from Jones.
The second set opened with another Rawlings penned original called “Ruby.” This track was truly stunning, and it brought sheer bliss. The four piece harmonies were absolutely perfect, and the band seemed to have the audience in a trance where they would fall into silent adoration for the ballads and turn into a raucous mob for the upbeat numbers.
Watson also got the opportunity to shine vocally in this set with his own take on the song “Keep It Clean,” which he proclaimed was actually a dirty song.
This set also put many cover songs on display, including Dylan’s “As I Went Out One Morning” and “Queen Jane Approximately” but also Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer.”
Dave and Gillian also had their time in the sun as they sang a few duets including the adorable new original, “Sweet Tooth.” The energy and tone these two set together is truly astonishing. There is definitely a reason they have been doing this for over two decades.
By the time the encore had crept up on the audience, everyone had come to expect “Going To California” which featured picture-perfect mandolin work from Mr. Jones, although Rawlings had to go through a couple of the verses to remember some of the words at one point. This didn’t take away from the song though, it merely gave the audience a little more of what they wanted.
Long story short, this act hasn’t been around very long and has only put out one EP, and are already climbing to the top of the ranks of contemporary folk/bluegrass/americana. Rawlings put together an allstar act, and they are definitely not one to miss. With most of their shows on the tour taking place in intimate settings, this is a show that can be fun for everyone from the die-hard music aficionado, to the pop 40’s listener. Get out and see this act, and check out their EP “A Friend of a Friend.”
Words by: Caroline Bradley
Photos by: Kevin Kenly
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