Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2000 15:21:36 -0500
From: Christopher Pelham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Gillian Welch/Ani Difranco/Greg Brown in NYC 3/20/00
this concert was even more satisfying than i expected!
for one thing i discovered greg brown is great. he's got a tom waits kind of voice but grew up the son of a midwestern itinerent preacher and so has a more country gospel blues thing going on and a generally more optimistic outlook I would say (and he got classical training and is really musical in maybe a garth hudson way), just very sexy.
but the best thing was simply the synergy: dave rawlings adding his sickly brilliant and tasteful guitar licks and gillian offering harmony to ani's songs, ani and gillian giddily dancing/singing backup dancing from one mic to another on "Fever," greg growling fuck you on "Untouchable Face," ("That's a great phrase, 'fuck you,'" he added) hearing them all speaking in and to the moment, trying to come up with songs to fit the chosen themes: children, the big city, heaven. They clearly love and admire one another and make one another that much better.
They opened together with Utah Phillips' "Dump the Bosses" with great energy and togetherness.
Then Ani offered the first theme, "The big city," in honor of the venue, and she led off with "Cradle and All." I think Gillian harmonized on the chorus and Dave doodled. I think Dave played on every tune he was out there for actually.
Then Gillian and Dave stepped up and were at a loss to come up with a city song. So was I. "Wichita"? She finally said (i'm really paraphrasing/guessing here as my memory's fuzzy) this is a song about going someplace, though not necessarily a city, and not getting back as quickly as you'd imagined, and they slipped into "One More Dollar." I don't recall them getting any help on this one but perhaps Ani joined in on the chorus.
Greg then offered "Dream City" which was really dark and beautiful and sexy and immediately won us over. He then threw out the next theme, "children," and sang a really cute and funny song, "Daughters," about his two daughters which impressed me with its images, language and character.
Ani said to Greg, "I'm really glad I've seen you with your daughters or I'd be a lot more scared of you than I already am. But I've seen you with them and it all just falls away. I grew up very differently. In my family the walls never came down. They stayed right up there. I don't know much about babies, just what I learned growing up," which segued into, "Angry Anymore" which I thought was a beautiful, fitting response.
Gillian seemed at a loss as to how to follow up. One of the things about this format, Gillian shared, is that it means you have to know what your songs are about. I think she took her cue from someone in the front row and settled on "Orphan Girl" which was as beautiful as always. Every song of the night was gorgeous, whether I've specifically said so or not.
Then Gillian picked up the banjo and got a big cheer. "Now I know how Ravi Shankar must feel, getting applause just for picking up an instrument." She and Dave suggested "Heaven" as the next theme and delivered an especially energetic, plaintive "Rock of Ages."
Ani said, "Hmm. The concept of Heaven has never really appealed to me very much." It rules out all the things I like to do best. That of course got huge cheer. She was stumped for a bit but found the opening image of "Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up":
up up up up up up points the spire of the steeple but god's work isn't done by god it's done by people
I'm sorry to say I can't even guess at the name of Greg's offering on the theme of Heaven ["Poor Backslider"--Ron] but I liked it. That marked the end of the theme segment, and Ani punctuated it by leading them all in a rousing cover cover of Woodie Guthrie's "(If You Ain't Got the) Do Re Mi" which was joyful.
Then they left Greg alone and he sang two sweet numbers, "Blue Car Blues" and "Vivid." Gillian and Dave joined him for "'Cept You and Me, Babe" before taking the lead. As soon as they played the first chords of "Caleb Meyer" the crowd really jumped. It was as exquisit as always. That they could turn around and slide into the languidly beautiful "Barroom Girls" gave me goosebumps on goosebumps.
Then Ani re-appeared to help Gillian and Dave with "Time's the Revelator." I'm afraid I don't recall exactly when Greg sang on Gillian's songs or when his guitarist played, but I remember thinking periodically that they offered a really welcome grounding bass line. Gillian's so beautiful that sometimes her voice seems to just float over what she's singing about to me (though to be sure the dark notes are there implicitly and in Dave's guitar phrasings), and I thought that Greg did just enough here and there to throw some earth up into the mix and make it that much richer and immediate.
Then they left Ani alone and she chastized the few fans who insisted upon calling her name while the others were performing, saying they were her favorite songwriters and to look out on them on the stage made her so happy and to hear a few people acting so rudely and not listening and respecting them made her really angry and sad and embarrassed to be herself, and she said it so simply and humbly and beautifully that it was as magical as any other moment of the night. Then she gave us two new songs that I'd never heard before but were just to die for. One of them, the second I think, was again musically unlike anything I know from her. Her guitar part was melodic rather than rhythmic, more picked than strummed, and the melody and phrasing reminded me of Tin Pan Alley classics. Can anyone say anything more about this song. I really felt throughout the night that Ani's guitar playing and musicality had once again shown growth since the last time I'd seen her (think about it in the last three or so years she's sought out/worked with Bob Dylan, Daniel Lanois, Prince, and Gillian and Dave--and it shows.)
then they all came back out for Ani's "Untouchable Face" which was just so righteous and joyful and said goodnight (or was that after the next song?) then played Ani's "Two Little Girls." The next encore was a strong beautifully phrases a cappella quartet version of Ani's "Every State Line."
and then came they burned it down with "Fever" led by Greg's voice and Bo and Dave's blackwater guitars and punctuated by Ani and Gillian's delightful backing vocals.
ani announced that after the show they'd descend into the bowels of the building and play together for another couple of hours (torture to know that!) so i didn't wait around for them. that was ok though. it was just such a beautiful beautiful night all about the music and being in the moment and sharing in the truest folksinger tradition that it didn't really matter it was in this formal high culture concert hall. Dave (and Greg's guitar player) really add a rich musical texture to Ani's songs, Greg grounds and counterpoints Gilliand and Ani, Ani and Gillian do the opposite for Greg setting the emotion of his songs flying, and ani it hink adds a simply ecstasy to gillian's songs. ani's love and passion are omnipresent. I know I've said virtually nothing about Bo Ramsay but his playing was hot, too, and once I swore he got his guitar to sound like a fiddle. I went right out to get Greg's CD's but the Times Square Virgin megastore was out! anyway i think god i got to be a part of it! amen.
ps i really hope someone is taping these shows as they are truly landmark performances for all of them i believe and something we're not likely to see on official releases (i'd guess). if anyone is circulating tapes, please email me and i'll be glad to help!
"We come together making chance into starlight."
-Jeff Buckley, "Morning Theft"