The Dave Rawlings Machine took over the Bowery Ballroom Wednesday, its first night of a two-night stand, turning it into an intimate country night where Brooklyn hipsters were “folks” and foot-stomping replaced thumping kick drums. The Machine itself was amorphous all night, shifting from duets with Rawlings and longtime collaborator Gillian Welch to full band numbers with Ketch Secor and Morgan Jahnig of Old Crow Medicine Show, as well as Gabe Witcher of the Punch Brothers who sat in for the night. At one point Welch quipped that the only fact about the Machine was that “it wears denim”. All this was expected, however, given Rawlings’ varying roles as a Nashville producer, songwriter and collaborator. Though touring in support of his debut record, A Friend Of A Friend—and performing every song—the Machine’s set heavily reflected Rawlings’ sprawling influence.
They began with their playful cover of “Monkey And The Engineer” and soon got more sentimental with the beautiful Rawlings/Secor song “I Hear Them All”. Getting the crowd involved early, they segued into “This Land Is Your Land” which naturally turned it into one big sing along. By the time “Sweet Tooth” came along the audience was amped. “Big Rock Candy Mountain” became a quickstep duet between Rawlings and Welch. Rawlings showed off his soloing prowess throughout the night, but was especially effective on Welch’s “Throw Me A Rope”. Welch also sang lead for her song “Look At Miss Ohio”. At these moments the preternatural connection between Welch and Rawlings was incredible, their guitars perfectly complimenting each other like strands in a braid, their harmonies like a shadow of the lead vocal line. The lullaby “Bells of Harlem” sounded like a standard already with its delicate and gorgeous melody. Secor dressed it up further, adding traces of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on harmonica.
While Rawlings gyrated on stage, twisting his body around his 1935 Epiphone, which was usually perched on, and perpendicular to, his abdomen, Welch, in contrast, was stoic and graceful, like the matriarch of a frontier wagon train. Secor was also animated, providing back up dancing with Witcher at one point.
Despite two lengthy sets, the crowd clamored for an encore. It started with the recession honky tonk, “How’s About You”. The Ryan Adams co-written track, “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)”, was thrown in before the Machine ended with a rousing cover of “The Weight”. The group’s virtuosic harmonies thankfully drowned out the chorus of crowd members eagerly singing along.