The affable Texan with the lilting twangy voice received a hearty welcome at his sold-out acoustic performance at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard last night.
From the opening notes of his first song, the soulful, haunting "Tonight, I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown," Gilmore was clearly relaxed and at home. So much so that a few songs later he was able to laugh off forgetting the words to "Braver, Newer World."
"I don't think I've ever forgotten a song on the first line," he apologized. As fans shouted out the lines to prompt him, Gilmore joked, "I guess we'll have to go through the whole song a verse at a time."
The 90-minute performance included many such lighthearted moments. The lanky 52-year-old, smoky-gray hair hanging well below his shoulders, spent as much time talking and laughing as he did singing. "I can always tell when something's wrong, but I can't tell what it is," he said as he tried to tune his guitar. He added, "I guess my whole life is like that." Earlier he wondered, "Why is it that cowboy songs are all so maudlin and suicidal?"
Equal parts country and karma, Gilmore's songs manage to be both down-home and far-out at the same time. When he did get around to singing, he had his audience riveted with aching versions of such songs as "Treat Me Like a Saturday Night," and "Another Colorado," or singing along on revved-up romps like "My Mind's Gotta Mind of Its Own."
A remarkable interpreter of other songwriters' material, Gilmore also played songs by Lucinda Williams, the late Townes Van Zandt, Butch Hancock and a beautiful, tender rendition of "Georgia Rose," by the late Walter Hyatt.
Guitarist Rob Gjersoe accompanied Gilmore throughout the set: as straight man during Gilmore's storytelling and with often brilliant playing during the songs, Gjersoe also added his reedy tenor as backing vocals on several tunes.
Returning for two encores, Gilmore brought the evening to an end with the much-requested "Just a Wave." It was gesture of thanks that left the appreciative crowd looking forward to his next visit. Cristy McWilson, singer with the Seattle band the Picketts, opened with a well-received 40-minute set that showcased her earnest, rootsy voice and clever songwriting.