The Heights Theater
November 4, 2018
Nearing a decade as a band, Dawes has gone from what seemed like a Los Angeles counterpart to the fashionable roots-rock revival of the late-’00s (occupied by Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers) to a consistent songwriting stalwart and torchbearer of timeless folk-based rock & roll. For confirmation, one need not look further than the company in which they keep, including larger than life figures such as Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, ELO, and Elvis Costello (all of whom have invited Dawes on tour at one point or another).
However, unlike the many LA-based bands that have established a career by means of major-label help, perfect timing, or a hit song or two, Dawes has instead made their mark by taking a blue-collar approach—devoting themselves to years on the road, gaining familiarity with one another’s musical sensibilities, and ultimately growing into as nearly perfect as a live band can be.
You have a lead vocalist/guitarist in Taylor Goldsmith, who despite being most praised for his witty lyricism and songwriting capabilities, is equally capable of offering up an infectious guitar solo at any given point. You have a savant-like keyboardist in Lee Pardini, whose melodies and textures promote the more exploratory aspects of the band. Then you have a rhythm section guided by drummer Griffin Goldsmith (Taylor’s brother), who together with bassist Wylie Gelber, have mastered the art of sitting back in the pocket, doing only what is necessary to serve each song.
Noticeably anchoring this entire dynamic, however, are the vocal harmonies of the Goldsmith brothers, which immediately conjure up the Laurel Canyon sounds of the early-’70s pioneered by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and the like. Though this aspect may be obvious for anyone familiar with their recorded work, these harmonies are never more so effective than when cutting through a live room.
This was made apparent at the outset of Sunday night with early offerings, “Send Me Away” and “Roll With the Punches,” both of which highlighted the organic way the band’s voices gel with one another. With acoustic-driven tunes like “So Well,” it was almost as if instruments weren’t needed at all—the dual vibrato of the chorus (and crowd) carrying the song on its own.
Another characteristic made clear early on was the close-knit relationship this band has developed over time. Aside from the obvious familial connection between the brothers, each member played off one another in such a way that made it obvious to all just how comfortable these guys are when on stage together.
Despite the camaraderie, this show began and ended with Taylor Goldsmith. From the first song on, he commanded the stage with a sense of energy and confidence that resonated with the theater throughout the night. This is largely thanks to his ability to do it all. Needed an introspective sing-a-long? He gave it to you with the coincidentally-named “A Little Bit of Everything.” Needed a face-melting guitar solo droning on for over two minutes? He took care of that with the R&B-flared “Feed the Fire,” immediately clearing up any misconceptions about Dawes’ ability to amplify things.
This ability of wearing just the right hat at just the right time not only speaks to Goldsmith’s innate gift as a front-man, but further references how the band has developed the skill of assembling a set that fulfills just the right mood at just the right time—yet another byproduct of the band’s time on the road.
This night was billed as “An Evening with Dawes,” meaning rather than the usual hour and a half-long outing, the audience was instead treated to two separate sets, making up nearly three hours of Dawes with no openers (a bold yet sensible thing to do for a band so committed to their live show).
Though the first set was solid throughout (and would have alone satisfied much of the sold out crowd), this structure really paid off after the intermission. Returning with a few rarely-offered acoustic songs (including the hilariously-clever Blake Mills cover, “Hey Lover”), the band then accelerated into a 30-minute-long clinic of up-beat fan-favorites, all of which were slightly reworked from their recorded version to incorporate drawn-out jams, further putting the band’s undeniable chemistry on display. For instance, songs like “I Can’t Think About it Now,” and “Most People” included a trade-off of solos between Goldsmith and touring guitarist Trevor Menear, each lick met with smiles of approval by the other.
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Unsurprisingly, the night concluded with the band’s two most popular songs, “When My Time Comes,” and “All Your Favorite Bands,” both of which were met with such a strong level of fan participation that it was hard to believe this was a Sunday night in Houston. Even those who clearly had no familiarity with Dawes’ catalog could be found wrapped up by the intimacy of the room, yelling along whatever gibberish they felt fit each chorus—all for the irresistibility of being a part of what was going on at The Heights Theater.
This is exactly what Dawes does best. Whether it’s by means of modest love songs, or outright rock & roll, the band’s mix of charm, musicality, and unmistakable joy in doing what they’re doing, make it nearly impossible not to buy into every note that's in front of you. They certainly had the buy-in from The Heights Theater crowd on Sunday night.