Quite simply, it was one of the shows of the year in Salt Lake City.
The acoustic, old-time sounding folk of Gillian Welch and low-fi guitar hero David Rawlings lit up a near capacity crowd Friday night at Kingsbury Hall. The performance earned the duo three separate standing ovations. Four, if you include the small amount of people who stood and applauded when the pair first walked out onto the stage.
Opening with the haunting, almost churchy sounding "Orphan Girl," Welch and Rawlings revealed their full bag of tricks early on. While Welch sings haunting melodies in her beyond-lovely voice and provides fine rhythm parts, Rawlings spews guts, gravel and soul all over the songs via his fast playing on his ancient sounding 1935 Epiphone acoustic.
Not very tricky, eh? No, and these two don't need them. Instead they rely on strong lyrics, great singing and fine playing. That's all they have and it's all they need. The show's first set was virtually a non-stop highlight with "I Wanna Sing That Rock and Roll," "Red Clay Halo," and "Elvis Presley Blues." But, the truth is I could name any song in the first set. It was all tremendous and just might have been the best live set of the year in Utah.
Playing with virtually no light show, save for a backdrop that made it appear the two were in a wooded valley, and surrounded only by their banjo, harmonica rack and two glasses of water, the duo repeatedly proved that music is their only weapon in winning over a crowd.
The second set dialed back the energy just a notch, but Rawlings' medley of his own "I Hear Them All," mixed in with Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" raised the roof as did Welch's "Time (The Revelator)." Other second set highlights were the cryptic ode to the futility of life on earth, "Annabelle" and the eerie folk song, "Caleb Meyer."
Both encores, which each ended with standing ovations, kept up the intensity with great takes on "The Way The Whole Thing Ends," I'll Fly Away," and "Jackson."
The only thing wrong with the night is that you knew it had to end. After a 45-minute first set and and just over an hour with the second set and two rounds of encores, it seemed to go by too fast. I'm not sure when the last time Welch and Rawlings hit SLC, but I know it hasn't been in the past four years. And I also know the next appearance won't come soon enough.
Follow Salt Lake Magazine's arts/entertainment writer Scott Murphy on Twitter @murphyinfo.