Tuesday night in Minneapolis was freezing, but California band Dawes loved the city enough to spend the biggest party night here anyhow. It was the second of two nights at the venue. Minneapolis fans sure were grateful for it, and the band was grateful to be there. As lead singer Taylor Goldsmith put it, "This isn't some regular show. We're spending New Year's Eve together."
Dawes have played larger venues
than the Varsity in town, but the place was the perfect fit for the intimacy of such a spirited show. The band drew laughs walking onstage to Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It," and balanced the night between grandiose and hushed moments from the beginning of their set.
It's hard to take your eyes off lead singer Taylor Goldsmith, who has a guitar strap that says "Goldsmith" on it -- just in case you forget his last name. His enchanting lyrics charmed with tales that ride catchy melodies on "The Way You Laugh" and "From a Window Seat." The pieces left the crowd in staring, but the band left plenty of time during their signature extended jams for the audience to move around.
The harmonies echo the folk rock of decades past and bring to mind the Eagles, perhaps just not as trite. On "Fire Away," they played up these harmonies even more by jamming out and showing off drummer Griffin Goldsmith's voice by switching lead vocals and closing off with a round in the final chorus. Griffin has a voice to rival his brother Taylor, but with the three-part harmony that included keyboardist Tay Straithairn, it was pretty extraordinary. Often times harmonies can get lost in such a huge sound and show, but the sound was spot on and clear enough to hear all of the subtleties.
The weight of Dawes's lyrics play heavily into the music, leading to poignant moments. That isn't to dismiss the tightness and dexterity of the music, nor does it deter from it. Their live shows play out much like their recorded material, not perfect, but they dwell in these tiny imperfections to make the show human and reachable.
As the show leaned towards the end of the evening, Taylor led the countdown to say goodbye to 2013, but before they did, they brought out Mark Noseworthy of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros to help out on guitar for a cover of Blind Faith's "Had to Cry Today," a psychedelic piece that felt a bit like Phish.
Ending the set with "Side Effects," the band blurred the lines between delicate and callousness, but brought it into focus again with Goldsmith's lyrics. In Taylor's voice, you could hear the sincerity when he sings lines like, "So the next time that you see me, and our exchange feels somehow cheap/ Know that I feel every word you're saying, but from a few steps out of reach."
Nearing midnight in the Midwest, the band left the stage to come back for an encore with champagne and ring in the new year. The encore brought the party back to full steam with "Auld Lang Syne" playing in the speakers. Not a song to be left out of the set, "When My Time Comes" was a perfect opening, sharing an a capella chorus carried by the audience and soaring into the night. The band had two more songs, but with midnight passing and the energy fading from "When My Time Comes," the extended jams on "Peace in the Valley" and "If I Wanted Someone" dragged the night a little too long.
Dawes used most of the evening to express their thoughts on how we bury the depth of our emotions in everyday relationships and acts that seem menial, but in essence, make up our lives. Come on, most of their lyrics talk about time and time passing. New Year's Eve seemed a fitting evening to spend with a band whose music carries so much reflection.
Critic's bias: I honestly had not heard one Dawes' song until Tuesday evening and was a little skeptical because one of my friends finds them so boring, thus going into the show, my opinion was a little colored. I was pleasantly surprised; their live show was energetic and immensely fun.
The crowd: Hip 20 and 30-year-olds willing enough to spend $75 a ticket ($125 VIP) for a New Year's Eve party.
Overheard in the crowd: "Happy New Year!" of course.
Random notebook dump: Opener Field Report's sound tech could have been Justin Vernon's doppelgänger.
The Way You Laugh
From a Window Seat
Give Me Time
Time Spent in Los Angeles
From the Right Angle
Had to Cry Today (Blind Faith cover)
A Little Bit of Everything
When My Time Comes
Peace in the Valley
If I Wanted Someone