David Rawlings Machine Makes a ‘Picking Party’ In Portland With Gillian Welch & Willie Watson (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Touring in support of the freshly released album, Nashville Obsolete, Dave Rawlings Machine made a stop at Portland, Oregon’s Crystal Ballroom on Thursday, October 22nd. It was evident right out of the gate that this is one well-oiled Machine. The members of this band are no strangers to the stage. Rawlings’ longtime collaborator Gillian Welch was there beside him sharing vocal duties and playing guitar, adding harmonica on a few tunes. Willie Watson, a founder of Old Crow Medicine Show, played guitar, harmonized, and took lead vocals on a couple of tunes that called for his high lonesome voice. Punch Brothers bassist Paul Kowert held it all together with his upright while Brittany Haas, who began touring with Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings at just 14 years of age, stepped up to play the fiddle role.

There was no opening act, and the band came out and got things started with “The Weekend,” which is the opening track from their new album. All told, the band would play six out of the seven songs on Nashville Obsolete, along with a handful of songs from the 2009 release, A Friend Of A Friend.

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Rawlings has earned his leading role through hard work and success as a producer and as a writing collaborator on songs and albums by Welch and Ryan Adams, among others. His broad smile and laid back persona made the show feel more like a picking party than a large club show. A few songs in, Rawlings mentioned that he hadn’t bothered to bring a setlist out, and said, “So I’ll just play this pretty one I thought of.” And so it went as the band worked their way through a set of originals sprinkled with some traditional songs and a few covers.

The confidence of these top-notch musicians added to the sense of ease on stage. The collective effect was that the songs became the heroes rather than the individuals playing the instruments. That being said, Rawlings’ guitar work stood out, not necessarily for its technical prowess, but for the intent and power behind the notes. He’s a player that makes you feel the music, rather than just listen to it.

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The set ended with a powerful “Method Acting/Cortez the Killer” combo. After an encore of “Look at Miss Ohio” (Gillian Welch) and “The Weight” (The Band), the crowd still hadn’t had enough. Coming back out to a roar of hollering and foot stomping, Dave Rawlings Machine gathered around a single microphone and sang “Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home)”, the closing track from the new album. On their tour to introduce Nashville Obsolete, they are proving that solid American string music is anything but.

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