Sunday, August 3, 2014

DAWES – Classic, modern, and accessible

DAWES plays Mount Hope Winery (site of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire), July 23, 2014
Review by Special Guest Music Blogger Stephen M. Trimble
In the interest of full disclosure, I will state up front that Dawes, originally from the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles, is far and away my favorite band. Ever since I discovered the perfectly constructed, moving, emotional song “A Little Bit of Everything” on Sirius Satellite Radio, I’ve devoured everything the quartet has produced to date, and been delighted at every turn. 
 DAWES Photo by Noah Abrams,
Led by songwriter, guitarist, and lead vocalist Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes has a distinctly minimalist sound, allowing their alluring melodies and Taylor’s soulful vocals to play center stage. Rather than relying on fuzzy distortion to muddy the waters of their superb musicianship, Dawes’ approach is to let the emotion of their songs come to the fore. This creates an accessibility and connection with the listener that is sadly absent from many modern rock bands. 
Griffin Goldsmith, Taylor’s younger brother and the band’s highly underrated drummer, provides a solid and driving backbeat without overpowering the melodies. He also sings strong harmonies, his voice blending well with his brother’s. Wylie Gelber, bass, offers interesting lines that meld perfectly with the attitude of the music. And Tay Strathairn, keys, has a Steve Winwood-like affinity for the keyboards that offers up tasty notes on the Hammond organ and evocative piano that in many songs leads the melodic charge. 
The show in Mount Hope, PA, on July 23 was only my second live Dawes experience (second of many, one hopes). The first, in York, PA at the Strand Theater, was disappointing. Although the band itself had a stellar performance, the sound was mixed in an amateurish manner and thus was almost unlistenable. The bass and drums were mixed so high that you could almost see each note, and as a result, the vocals had to be pushed to the point of distortion, and Tay’s keys were nearly lost in the deplorable mix. 

The opposite was true at the Mount Hope venue. The sound was mixed perfectly, allowing the audience full enjoyment of this outstanding show. The venue itself is on the site of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire—on the outdoor Human Chessboard stage. There is plenty of room to get up close to the stage, making for an intimate experience. For audience members who prefer to sit and watch the band, pew-like benches are arranged to the rear of the audience section. 
In all, about 400 people braved a blustery thunderstorm just before the show and were not disappointed.  The weather let up almost to the minute before showtime, and just as the last of the rain fell from the unsettled sky, the band appeared and opened with one of my favorite tracks: “That Western Skyline” from their first album, North Hills. The story of a young man who follows unrequited love across the country, the tune evokes sadness juxtaposed with an empowering declaration of returning home and resuming life. 
From there, the band launched into stirring renditions of “Most People,” “Just Beneath the Surface,” “From the Right Angle,” and “From a Window Seat” (from their latest album Stories Don’t End); “Fire Away,” “A Little Bit of Everything,” “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” and “Coming Back to a Man” (from their sophomore album Nothing is Wrong); and “Peace in the Valley,” also from North Hills. Notably, they also played fan favorite “When My Time Comes,” with Taylor turning the mic over to the crowd for the third chorus, to which the audience replied lustily. 
The band also offered up three new songs: The fantastic “Right on Time,” “Things Happen,” and “Can’t Think About That Now,” all from their upcoming fourth album, which is yet to be recorded. 
Dawes is a band that makes its living on the road, and had returned to the US only one day previous after a European jaunt opening for Conor Oberst at several shows. Despite this, the band showed no signs of fatigue and delivered a soulful, energetic performance that engaged the crowd and had us on our feet. In addition, my fiancée and I had a chance to meet Taylor after the show, and he could not have been nicer or more patient as we posed for a picture. This was despite the 40-person line behind us waiting to meet him. 

In short, if you have not yet encountered Dawes either recorded or live, make it a priority. Their combination of strong songwriting, superb musicianship, soul, and approachability make this a special band with the power to endure long after their contemporaries have faded with nary a whimper. And I hope that the Mount Hope folks continue to book concerts at this excellent venue when the Faire is dark (it runs from August to October each year), because it’s a perfect outdoor setting to see a favorite band. 

Special Thanks to Candace Smith of The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. Don’t miss the opening of the faire August 2!

Stephen Trimble is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area. 

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