Brett Dennen, Dawes Fitzgerald's May 5, 2011
While many celebrated Cinco de Mayo last night with margaritas and sombreros, Aftermath was at Fitzgerald's watching a folk-rock band and a pale, red-haired dude wearing a Golden State Warriors T-shirt. Nevertheless, we're used to marching to the beat of a different drummer, so Fitzgerald's it was.
Thursday marked the first night of tour for folk-pop songwriter Brett Dennen and fellow Californian openers Dawes (who we saw at Fitz last year). Showcasing their trademark blues-infused soul-rock, Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith and Co. played a too-short run-through of 2009's North Hills material, including "That Western Skyline," and "When My Time Comes," which, thanks to a recent Chevy commercial, has become eternally ingrained in our heads.
Also thrown into the mix were some new tunes from Dawes' forthcoming sophomore album Nothing Is Wrong (slated for a June 7 release), including "Fire Away" and the tongue-in-cheek tale "A Little Bit of Everything."
After just seven songs, Dawes thanked the crowd, graciously pretended to disregard the audience's request for an encore, and lugged their own gear off the stage.
Already hinted by the massive tour bus parked outside, Brett Dennen, unlike the modest members of Dawes, didn't lug his own gear. Taking the stage to cheers, Dennen instantly unveiled his calculated quirkiness: A vintage sports T-shirt, unkempt hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and bare feet; a lot of thought had gone into looking this untailored. He's basically Ben Kweller meets Chuckie from Rugrats.
Dennen, a California native, is 31 years old but appears an entire decade younger. Opener "Little Cosmic Girl," from this year's Loverboy, showed-off his proficient, studio-ready band.
The singer shimmied awkwardly yet endearingly behind his guitar, making faces, sticking out his tongue, gauchely licking his lips - all assumed subconscious idiosyncrasies that would eventually prove constant and laughable by night's end.
"Thank you! You're beautiful!" Dennen said, before delving into hits from his four-album discography, including Loverboy single "Sydney," So Much More's "She's Mine," and Hope for the Hopeless' "Wrong About Me."
While his voice is at times evocative of Ryan Adams, Dennen's style is (far) more on par to singer-songwriters like Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson; his strength was in the comprehensive talent provided by his flawless and tasteful backing band.
As the set progressed, so did the chatter; we were dealing with a loud, talkative crowd. But Dennen carried on, until eventually nearly half of the audience left. This could be due to The Greenhornes' downstairs show or simply because Dennen continued over 30 minutes past his allotted set-time.
Regardless, the set list dragged on as many grew bored and bailed; those left were true Dennen fans, surrounding the stage's front row, requesting songs, singing along, and breathing new life into his set.
Reminiscent of Bob Schneider, "Darlin' Do Not Fear" drew a favorable crowd response. While set closer "Make You Crazy" already pushed the band into midnight territory (they took the stage at 10pm), Dennen returned to the stage for a solo acoustic encore of "There Is So Much More" and full-band closer "Surprise, Surprise."
After two hours onstage, Dennen still seemed to relish the spotlight, raising his arms proudly, an unlikely stage ham, as he thanked the crowd and left.
Personal Bias: Dawes > Dennen
The Crowd: Talkative; girls and couples. And a girl in the front row who answered her ringing cell phone and proceeded to carry on a conversation while Taylor Goldsmith lyrically bared his soul mere inches away.
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Overheard in the Crowd: Security to girl: "Are you 21?" She wasn't, and she -and her Modelo -were swiftly kicked out.
Random Notebook Dump: MVP of the evening = Dennen's guitarist, who sported KISS Vans.