A Tuesday Night with Gillian Welch and the Decemberists

Here at OVRLD, we intentionally train our focus on Austin bands and the city’s multi-faceted music scene. Therefore, when I began writing this piece on a musical event Carter and I recently attended that featured two bands without any distinct Austin ties, I found myself looking for an Austin-y angle. Sure enough, Twitter came through with the answer (as Twitter tends to do). After Tuesday night’s incredible double Austin City Limits taping at the Moody Theater with the Decemberists and Gillian Welch, someone with the handle @Jason___Cohen tweeted, “The Decemberists are to Portland as _________ is to Austin?”

This is an interesting question (which a number of people chose to answer with the likes of Spoon and Bob Schneider) that highlights one of the reasons I love the Decemberists and reveled in their ACL set: they don’t shy away from sharing a little of their distinctly Portland sensibility with everyone each show (we can debate which Austin-based band equally does that in the comments). Now, it has been chronicled on this site multiple times that I am from the Rose City and love the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest, so this was definitely no where near my first Decemberists show. However, seeing any band or performer in the confines of an ACL taping is always a uniquely thrilling event – the bands are always honored to be there, production is top notch and the crowd is (usually) amped. Also, Decemberists piano and accordion extraordinaire Jenny Conlee, who has been bravely battling breast cancer, was back and sounding as incredible as ever. The Decemberists breezed through a number of King is Dead tracks such as “Down by the Water,” “Rox in the Box” and “All Arise” as well as classics like “Leslie Ann Levine,” “The Bagman’s Gambit” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” The night’s other stars, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, also popped on stage for vocals and guitar on some of the King is Dead tracks (Gillian’s voice is featured on the record, as well).

After the Decemberists’ energetic set and a 30-minute intermission during which the stage was stripped of almost all gear and equipment, Gillian and Dave proceeded to mesmerize the crowd with their perfect harmonies and deft instrumental skills. For me, Gillian Welch has always been one of those artists you speak about in hushed, reverent tones. Needless to say, I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to hear her perform, especially classic tunes like “Elvis Presley Blues” and “Look at Miss Ohio,” in such an incredibly intimate setting. It struck me as really odd and unfortunate, therefore, that a number of people felt the need to depart the taping both before and during Welch’s set. There is quite surely a special place in Hell reserved for people who walk out during a Gillian Welch show. Sure it’s a weeknight and a double taping, but also, IT’S GILLIAN WELCH! That being said, Gillian and Dave delivered an incredibly stirring show heavily laden with songs from the magnificent Harrow and the Harvest (seriously, hearing “Tennessee” live will likely prove to be an all-time concert highlight for me). Gillian even clogged during her performance of “Six White Horses.” Overall, it was a fantastic night of live music in Austin, so be sure to catch the episode when it airs on PBS in October.

– Brittany