14 February 2010
Turner Hall, Milwaukee
[Note to our readers: On occasion, our far flung correspondents attend and review shows. Here's another one.]
Taking the stage before Cory Chisel and his band last night, it was clear from the very beginning that Dawes was armed to the teeth with wattage to spare, nary an acoustic guitar in sight. This is not exactly the impression left with the listener upon repeated spins of North Hills, the California quartet's 2009 debut (and one of TNOP's favorite albums of that year). Front man Taylor Goldsmith may as well have quoted Stephen Stills at the end of the acoustic set on Crosby, Stills & Nash's Four Way Street: "We're going to take a break. And then we're going to come back and play some electric music. And good music."
The opener, "When You Call My Name," is joyous in its melody that would fit snuggly beside any track on The Jayhawks' Hollywood Town Hall. But it gives the audience an indication of just how personal - and literary - Goldsmith is as a lyricist, in the grand tradition of many of his Laurel Canyon forebears: So if you want to get to know me/Follow my smile down into its curves/All these lines are born in sorrows and pleasures/And every man ends up with the face that he deserves.
The elegant harmonies of the band were featured in the next two numbers, "Give Me Time" and "Bedside Manner." The former seemed sped up half a beat to match the electric treatment. The latter, a fascinating cradle to (mostly) grave tale that encapsulates the speedy passage of time and the question of whether faith - or simple remembrance - matters. Goldsmith delivers a beautiful, pleading vocal with Neil Young guitar riffs while playing off the stretched out piano chords of Alex Casnoff.
The healthy sized crowd were also treated to two new songs. "If I Wanted Someone" combines a chugging rhythm that brings to mind On The Border Eagles with whipsaw lyrics highlighting the narrator's basest instincts, which are sought to be satisfied without questions asked or complications attached. "Time Spent In Los Angeles" is bittersweet, and no doubt somewhat autobiographical. The members of the band have talked about the love of their North Hills, California roots but also their detachment from home given the nomadic lifestyle that a road band must adopt. My friends don't see me/Without a suitcase in my hand sings Taylor Goldsmith to a solid county rock beat.
"That Western Skyline" is the opening cut and certainly one of the highlights of North Hills. But the crunching guitar approach on this night just did not seem to fit, even though it was obvious from the start of the concert that Dawes would be coming at the audience full bore. This achingly beautiful ballad of distant friendship due to geographical differences began well enough with the slight vocal echo on the verses, but the sledgehammer attack took away from the heartbreak the song so effectively delivers on the LP.
But the finale provided the "wow" factor that only bands with the right stuff can deliver. "When My Time Comes" is an anthemic triumph that shows the true strength of Dawes and why the live approach to the recording of North Hills was so effective: minimal overdubs, real musicianship (the thundering beat and matching harmonies of Griffin Goldsmith paired with the pacing bass of Wylie Gelber) and a personal connection to the fans that simply cannot be manufactured.
Dawes is out on the road honing their craft. See them in the small venues while you can; The Night Owl has a feeling this band is on the verge of bigger things.
'When You Call My Name"
"Give Me Time"
"If I Wanted Someone"
"Love Is All I Am"
"How Far We've Come"
"Time Spent In Los Angeles"
"That Western Skyline"
"When My Time Comes"
FURTHER LISTENING AND VIEWING
Daytrotter session from May 2009.
Article and video profile of Dawes from November 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.