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Welch treats Boston

Wilbur Theatre, Boston, December 12, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
Gillian Welch said early on that, in fact, there was some benefit to her cancellation of a Boston show slated for late October due to laryngitis. Boston now gets two shows from the singer.

Not only was Welch's voice in fine form, but so was her sidekick David Rawlings in an evening of sometimes quiet, sometimes musically upbeat (even if a lot of the songs are lyrical downers) and always quite captivating mix of country, bluegrass and folks sounds.

Welch and Rawlings started with a lovely version of Orphan Girl. The song is one of - if not the - best-known Welch songs. So to start with a chestnut means she must have had a lot of confidence in the rest of material.

Truth be told…Welch does. She played a chunk of songs from her first release in eight (yes, eight) years, "The Harrow & The Harvest." Six White Horses from the new disc was a particular standout particularly with Welch clogging along with The Way It Goes.

Welch has become a more confident performer over time. She cracked a few lines, smiled more easily and seemed more comfortable as well. Rawlings, on the other, appeared more at home with a good sense of humor.

But the main attraction was the material and the interplay between the two. Rawlings often came in on backing vocals and harmonies behind Welch's pleasant, ingratiating voice. Rawlings knew his place, but played a pivotal role. He also took lead vocals on one song - Sweet Tooth, one of the best songs of the night.

Rawlings's main contribution, though was his ace guitar playing. His spirited efforts drove the songs, while also engaging in guitar interplay at times with Welch. Both played acoustic guitar, although Welch sometimes turned to banjo. The two have been together for the long haul, and it most definitely showed.

Playing two sets (plus a few encores), the second set proved more captivating, resulting in an even more enthusiastic response from the crowd. There was no problem during the first set, but the second was musically meatier.

Called back for a second encore, the pair scorched on Jackson, a fitting end to the evening with the crowd clapping and singing along.

Welch pointed out that the result of having laryngitis was that her tour was done in Boston. Maybe there was some good to having laryngitis - for Boston anyway.