When My Time Comes - Dawes (mp3)
“This is the kind of music you’d hear at a party, and no one would complain about it, and a few people would be asking who it was.”
These were the words of my friend who joined me in a last-minute oh-what-the-hell trip to Chattanooga’s Track29 to watch Dawes in concert. Before he walked in, he’d never once heard Dawes. He’s what I consider a casual music fan, someone who really gets into music in the moment, but when the music ends, he doesn’t miss it that much. Out of earsight, musically out of mind.
Dawes wasn’t a sure bet for him to enjoy, but I was willing to take the chance and cajoled him.
Nothing Is Wrong, Dawes’ 2011 sophomore effort, is an intriguing mishmash of classic rock staples. The most obvious and commonly referenced is Jackson Browne, and one would be a bit tonedeaf not to hear Browne’s voice haunting every word Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith utters. Goldsmith probably has a love-hate relationship with this connection, depending on how many times people say the name “Jackson Browne” to him in a given day.*
And if Dawes was just a Browne clone band, well, they wouldn’t sell many records. But their range is solid, and their influences a bit more complex. Most importantly, they can turn some pithy, sharp phrases.
“I’m like a bird that crashes into the window / that was drawn to the reflection of the sky,” he croons in “If I Wanted Someone.” Another, “Coming Back to a Man,” has a healthy handful of clever and catchy moments, and rare is their song that doesn’t inspire an eyebrow-raise and a nod to the lyric gods from the attentive listener.
What I especially loved about their live performance -- and you just can’t believe how rare this is in the last 20 years -- was the ability to understand what the hell Taylor was singing.
Most rock concerts, in my experience, are worried about the instruments. Usually they want to blow your doors off, but rarely do they let you understand the words. Country music concerts are usually a little better, and folk is almost always trusty because it’s usually a stripped-down sound.
It’s my theory that rock bands just assume their audience already knows the words and will sing along literally or in their heads. Or their lyrics suck enough they figure their chances of impressing are better sans distinction.
Dawes, though, managed a sonically-pleasing, instrumentally-gratifying show while also offering that rare pleasure of letting the uninitiated enjoy their words.
They’re also damn chill. Sure, they have a lot of up-tempo numbers, but even their up-tempo is kinda mellow. Part of that is they syrupy Browne vocals, but the band clearly made a decision that they were not in the business to blow doors off, or to be the official band of a biker gang.
About the fourth song in, I realized how much they reminded me of Toad the Wet Sprocket, another alt band whose best moments were located in that mid-tempo range of mellowness upbeatness.
Dawes is exactly the kind of band Track29 exists to promote. Unfortunately, Track29 exists in Chattanooga, a town more likely to turn out in droves for Lauren Alaina** than for true musicianship and songcraft.
Dawes closed out their night with a sublime encore performance of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," buttressed by the superior craftmanship of 2/3 of Nickel Creek, Sara and Sean Watkins. True encores aren't supposed to be about your Greatest Hits; it's supposed to be a bonus, an extra. While I'm no fan of cover songs on albums, I love a good cover concert encore, especially an ensemble encore. It reminds the audience that the band is one of you, just peeps who love music and love musicians.
* -- After the concert, Taylor Goldsmith told some friends that Jackson Browne has been very supportive and is a fan of the band, which has to be pretty cool. And the best thing about smaller concerts and smaller venues is when bands are real enough to step down to the crowd level and hang out for a while. It’s not unusual, but it’s certainly not ubiquitous.
** -- No offense, honey, but as ol’ Morrisey was fond of saying, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby.