Dawes at First Avenue, 7/10/13
Photo by Erik Hess
with Shovels and Rope and Paul Spring
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
There's something very Minneapolis about Dawes. Plenty of their songs are about their hometown of Los Angeles, and not one of the four young men in the band look particularly like they could withstand the terrifying January temperatures of our fair city, but for whatever reason, Minneapolis has adopted Dawes as one of its own. They are as beloved here as though they grew up with our thousands of lakes and our tater tot hot dish.
That fact is not lost on Dawes, who took to the stage at First Avenue with broad smiles and festival-sized energy. Wednesday's performance was the second in a two-night stand at the venue, both of which were very sold out.
Dawes opened the evening with a fiery rendition of "From a Window Seat," the lead single off their third album, Stories Don't End. Many of the subsequent songs were treated with a similar energy -- lead singer Taylor Goldsmith wasn't afraid to let loose and shred on his guitar, and he did so often, just as his bandmates railed on their own instruments. The organ notes that Tay Strathairn carved out in "If I Wanted Someone" only offered the crowd more reason to cheer, and offered a prelude to the hard-rocking "From the Right Angle" that followed.
Photos by Erik Hess
After years of playing to the Twin Cities crowds, Dawes have come to an understanding. This is homebase. As Goldsmith turned the last chorus of "Fire Away" over to the crowd, he chuckled, as though he were only slightly surprised to hear 1,600 people singing his lyrics to him without guidance.
"I'm gonna call a spade a spade here. You're not seeing Bob Dylan or Wilco or My Morning Jacket tonight, so there's some extra pressure on us to make you feel like you made the right choice," announced Goldsmith midway through the evening's set, beaming as he looked out at the happy crowd. "I'm not saying anything against those guys because they're three of the best groups out there -- all I'm trying to say is thank you. This means so much to us."
Some highlights of the night included "That Western Skyline," one of the first Dawes tunes ever released and arguably their most successful -- sometimes it feels as though we've been waiting for them to write a song like that again -- as well as a surprising and thoroughly awesome cover of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight," sung by Taylor Goldsmith's younger brother, drummer Griffin Goldsmith. With the elder Goldsmith taking a seat at the piano for the first and only time in the evening, the crowd could focus on Griffin's underappreciated vocals -- a little rougher, more unrefined, more naturally twangy than his brother's.
Aside from the heartfelt enthusiasm exuded from both the group on stage and the audience watching, one of the best things about going to a Dawes show is matching the earnest players to their very earnest songs. Goldsmith has a conversational way of singing; it fits the narrative style of his storytelling, the way he releases his right hand from his guitar strings and gestures in character. The way he frames the mantra-esque "A Little Bit of Everything" is touching, as he intones for a bride-to-be: "I think that love is so much easier than you realize," sings Goldsmith throatily, "If you can give yourself to someone/Then you should."
Photo by Erik Hess
Dawes played for two hours. The 19 songs in their well-balanced setlist were performed without pretense; while there was plenty of rock 'n' roll, there weren't any cheesy flourishes. Maybe their ability to be humble and simultaneously play so well is partly due to their lucky partnerships with Jackson Browne, who they toured with in 2011, Robbie Robertson, and Credence Clearwater Revival. Before Stories was released, critics (this one included) were fond of comparing Dawes to a certain "Laurel Canyon sound" that they evoked; in retrospect, this sentiment was a little incomplete. The L.A. music of the '70s is an undeniable influence on the young band, but really, the biggest reason Dawes garner comparisons to the old Hall of Famers are because there really are very few bands that play as sincerely or tour as fiercely on the scale they do today.
By the end of the night, Goldsmith's plaid oxford button-up was soaked a few shades darker with perspiration. He had hardly swallowed water between songs for the entire evening.
"I don't think you could ask for a more special night," said Goldsmith gratefully as the set drew to a close. "You guys are too good to us. It truly means the world."
Critic's bias: Oh, I haven't missed a Dawes performance since I saw them open for Edward Sharpe at First Avenue just over three years ago, in June 2010, back when the band was touring in support of their debut, North Hills. I remember that show very clearly -- Dawes were called back on stage for an encore, and they sheepishly took the stage a second time, though the night wasn't technically theirs. I like these guys. It's hard not to.
The crowd: Mixed, mellow, happy. Sold out, but not oversold -- it was actually very comfortable and everyone seemed to be having just a swell time.
Overheard in the crowd: "He grew a BEARD!" screamed some girl about Goldsmith, who did, indeed, grow a very fine beard for this tour.
Random notebook dump: Shovels and Rope were the second opener, a South Carolina-based husband-wife duo in the roots/rock tradition, and they were very entertaining. Very energetic and talented band -- sounds like a rock 'n' roll rodeo. Evidence here in this video.
From a Window Seat
The Way You Laugh
If I Wanted Someone
From the Right Angle
Something in Common
When My Time Comes
My Girl to Me
Just Beneath the Surface
Peace in the Valley
Time Spent in Los Angeles
We've Got Tonight (Bob Seger cover)
Little Bit of Everything
Hey Lover (Blake Mills cover)
End of the Line (Traveling Wilburys cover, joined by openers Shovels and Rope and Paul Spring)
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