Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Miked - Live Reviews from Issue #27 May-June 2000

Gillian WelchGreg Brown

Massey Hall (Toronto, Ontario), March 18, 2000

Just to prove the gods of concert promotion have a sense of mischief, consider the two shows competing for the public’s attention in Toronto on this night.

At the cavernous SkyDome, Ricky Martin was shaking his bon-bon atop a vintage car in a gaudy, prefab spectacle. Mere blocks away at the century-old classical recital venue Massey Hall, Ani DiFranco, Gillian Welch and Greg Brown were on a bare stage, trading stories and songs. It goes without saying that there were no automotive stage props and no bon-bons were shaken, but I doubt any of the 2,800 squeezed into Massey felt they missed out.

The two-hour show gave the trio a chance to perform together and alone, and during their solo forays, each got to stake out their distinctive territory. DiFranco, judging by the crowds’ enthusiasm (and the number of young women present who have copped her look), was the favorite, and she delighted her following by peppering her solo set with two promising newer songs. One number (referred to by her avid online followers as “Garden”) takes a broad political view: “The best minds of our generation can’t make bail.” The other new one, a rambling poetic piece possibly titled “This Little War”, took a more personal approach. She then reached back to her 1996 album Dilate for “Untouchable Face”, and called on Brown to assist with a gravel-voiced rendering of the song’s refrain: “Fuck you!”

Brown, joined by guitarist Bo Ramsey, is a wonderfully eccentric performer who mixes the down-and-out élan of early Tom Waits with droll, understated humor akin to John Prine — best heard in his solo set on the aching “‘Cept You And Me Babe”.

Welch, supported by her regular collaborator David Rawlings, warned the audience about her morbid streak before performing “Caleb Meyer”: “So far, we’ve been light on the killing songs; we usually lose two per set.” Rawlings’ peerless solos provided gorgeous counterpoint to “Time’s The Revelator” and “Paper Wings”.

But things really caught fire when the three took a page from the folk festival “workshop” format and structured their combined set around improvised themes. Each performer offered up a topic and challenged the others to come up with a tune to match, which had the added benefit of letting the musicians draw from unexpected portions of their songbooks.

The set list from show to show on this tour was radically different, but one element remained constant: The entire cast began with an a cappella rendition of Utah Phillips’ “Dump The Bosses”.

From there, DiFranco pronounced the first theme would be “relations between the living and the dead” and challenged with “Fuel”. Welch, well-acquainted with macabre themes, replied with a mournful reading of her ode to parental sacrifice, “Annabelle”. Brown countered with his own variation on the theme, a bittersweet childhood memoir called “Brand New ’64 Dodge”.

Brown then suggested “games people play” as a theme and offered up “The Poet Game”, a song that effortlessly straddles external observation (“I watched my country turn into a coast-to-coast strip mall”) and merciless introspection (“I’ve lost track of my mistakes/Like birds they fly around/And darken half of my skies”). DiFranco commented that most of the games we play are learned at home and replied with “Angry Anymore”, her own account of relations with her family. Welch and Rawlings chose a radically different interpretation of the theme — the cruel game played by migrant farm workers — and performed “One More Dollar”.

Welch traded her guitar for a banjo, suggested “The Devil” as a theme, and anted up with the Hell Among The Yearlings standout “The Devil Had A Hold OF Me”. DiFranco declared, “If there’s a God, that’s us; and if there’s a devil, that’s us, too,” and countered with a new song, a lament for the death of inner cities (“white people are so scared of black people…the country of good neighbors”). Brown took a bluesy variation on the topic with a menacing reading of “Ballingol Hotel”.

The ensemble collaborated on a muscular rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” and a moving version of Brown’s “China” before encoring with an a cappella version of DiFranco’s “Every State Line” and a snazzy take on the standard “Fever”. To hell with “La Vida Loca” — DiFranco, Welch and Brown demonstrated on this night that for some folks, the song is still the thing. And when the songs are this good, you don’t need anything else.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108


Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #27 May-June 2000

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »

From the Blogs

  • Red Heart Alarm - Hammer Anvil Stirrup (Album Review)
    Seattle is increasingly becoming a bastion of alt country Americana bands vying to be the next big thing toting the Ballard Avenue sound. Red Heart Alarm have coined one of the best terms for their sound calling what they do “Gruntry,” explaining that it marries their native city’s Grunge legacy with the melodic twang of classic Americana/Roots music. The ba […]
  • Matt Woods – With Love From Brushy Mountain (Album Review)
    Ever-bearded Tennessean troubadour Matt Woods’ second full length studio record, With Love From Brushy Mountain, is slated for a May 13, 2014 release.  This comes as a follow up to his first full length, The Matt Woods Manifesto, a trying task in and of itself.  Woods is hands down one of the hardest working singer/songwriters I’ve ever come across.  He eats […]
  • Rod Kennedy (1930-2014) and the Kerrville Folk Festival - Interview & Remembrance
    Rod Kennedy’s legacy is incalculable for those who truly love music, he departed this earthly plane on Monday 14th April 2014. R.I.P. The following “warts and all” late May 1986 interview with Mr. Kennedy, the founder of the Kerrville Folk Festival, was the lead feature in the debut issue of the Kerrville Kronikle fanzine sometime around 1988. No serendipity […]
  • The Redlands Palomino Company - Broken Carelessly (Album Review)
    It’s looking to be a good year for what one might loosely term “alt country” albums with Scots acts the New Madrids and Red Pine Timber Company handing in excellent efforts so far. Time now to look to London to see what’s cooking down there and keeping their end up are The Redlands Palomino Company whose fourth album, Broken Carelessly is released this week. […]
  • Simone Felice - King Tuts Wah Wah Hut (Glasgow - 4/11/2014)
    With his second solo album safely under his belt Simone Felice is rapidly conforming his status as one of the finest purveyors of Americana around these days. Fortunately (for us) he remains somewhat under the mass radar allowing audiences to see him in intimate settings such as the hallowed King Tuts, a perfect space to see and hear his shamanistic offering […]
  • First Seldom Scene Album in Seven Years: Exclusive Look
    Seldom Scene issues its first Smithsonian Folkways album next week with guests including Emmylou Harris. Mike Auldridge passed away in 2012, but the group includes founding member Ben Eldridge as well as Lou Reid, Dudley Connell, Ronnie Simpkins, and Fred Travers. Here is a look at "My Better Years" the Hazel Dickens' tune from the album,  […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!

Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter