Friday, 4 November 2016

Dawes - the best band in the world. Probably.

A few years ago, I came across Dawes by accident, at one of Glasgow’s finest venues – the Royal Concert Hall. As part of the city’s Celtic Connections festival, Roddy Hart curates a Roaming Roots Revue where he invites musicians he admires to join him and his band, the Lonesome Fire, to celebrate a particular theme or genre in popular music. This time, the theme was Laurel Canyon and Dawes fitted the bill well. Nothing to do with this review but Celtic Connections is a great festival and Roaming Roots Revue is a fine night out, which I’d highly recommend. Tickets are now on sale for January 28th, 2017 @ The theme this year is women in music. Expect the mighty Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush (not in the flesh you understand). Since hearing Dawes play four of their own tracks that evening, they have become one of my most listened to artists and I eagerly awaited my chance to experience them live again. With my dream playlist in my head and the most excitement I’ve felt about a gig in ages coursing through my veins, I headed to King Tut’s- according to NME, “quite possibly the best small venue in the world”.

Due on stage at 21.45, it was soon 21.55. The techs certainly did plenty of fine tuning and fussing. Get on with it already, I was thinking. I’m beyond excited and it’s a school night. Dawes finally graced the stage 15 minutes late. I played my usual “what will they open with?” as I waited impatiently. Their rather quiet entrance hid their obvious intention – to blow us away from the off. “Of course! What else could they have started with?” I smiled as they filled the room with the opening bars of “One Of Us” – first up from their new album, “We’re All Gonna Die”. It happened to be on my dream playlist so I was already totally sold. It turns out I wasn’t alone. The whole audience joined in the blistering chorus and we were, at once, a family. This level of familiarity surprised me. Being one of Glasgow’s trendiest venues and regarded by many as the place to see the next big thing, I wondered if many of the crowd had showed up hoping to bear witness to the birth of the next Oasis. Not tonight. I was obviously amongst true fans and buckled up for the ride. 

I recently discussed Dawes’ new album with a chum, who’s a musician himself, and we both agreed there’s a definite move to bigger, smoother production with lots of layers, strings and a number of things that would be difficult to translate in a live setting. Dawes skilfully turned this to their advantage, giving the crowd pure unadulterated rock versions of these songs. Actually, that appeared to be the theme of the night. Even when playing the haunting “Now That It’s Too late Maria” (another favourite of mine) from “All Your Favourite Bands”, the quiet, emotional, thoughtful start we expected built to a desperate, angry rock ballad (if that’s even a thing). Taylor looked like he could cry at any moment as he reminded us “now that it’s too late Maria, there is no-one here to blame”. With a lump in my throat, I was right there with him. 

We were treated to a set full to the brim of long intros and outros and enough solos in between to allow each magnificent musician in the band to shine. Particular highlights for me were Pardini’s Hammond organ solos on “Picture Of A Man” and “Million Dollar Bill”; Taylor Goldsmith’s guitar intro and solo on “Most People”; the unbelievable “engine room” interplay between Gelber on bass and Griffin Goldsmith on drums on “Less Than Five Miles Away” and the addition of a fifth touring member – Duane Betts, son of former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts. Betts doesn’t play on Dawes albums but joined them last year to tour their previous album. What he adds to the mix is just wonderful. He is an exquisite slide guitarist and I found myself totally wrapped in his interpretation of songs I know really well. I love it when a band can give me a fresh perspective on their music and Betts’ addition to their live line up is a master stroke in facilitating an exciting, new energy and sound. 

A few technical hitches provided moments I’ll remember for a long time to come. As drummer Goldsmith “struggled with his hi-hats” his brother Taylor picked up his guitar and started to strum. Someone behind me shouted “Time Spent In Los Angeles”. Taylor obliged and took up the first verse, quietly, on his own. Completely without prompt, when he reached the chorus, what sounded like the entire audience, joined him in unison. The Dawes choir was born and I was part of it. Gosh, I felt a bit emotional. 

I probably watch bassist’s hands more than the average bear, given how sexy I think they look. Getting lost at times in Gelber’s lazy looking string picking style, I noticed him struggling. He looked in discomfort. Leaving the stage for some attention on his hand, the rest of the band left with him, leaving Taylor and the Dawes choir to fill the space. We all sang “When My Time Comes” and Taylor, who lost his thread a few times, only to have the next line prompted from the crowd, looked like he was moved. We were having a bit of a moment. He said recently in an interview he sometimes gets lost on stage and then sees a face in the crowd, totally engrossed in the song and he feels they are somehow more part of his song than he is. The interviewer reckoned that could be what “We’re All Gonna Die” from the new album, is about. At that point, I think we were all in it together. 

As we neared the end of the road, almost two hours later, Taylor said, “We’ve got three more songs. We’re not gonna do the going off and waiting for you to cheer dance, we’re gonna stay the hell here and play for ya”. Oh, I love that man! As I started playing the “what are they going to close with?” game in my head, yet again I wasn’t surprised by their choice. Of course they couldn’t see us safely home with anything other than the title track from their supreme new offering, “We’re All Gonna Die”. It’s a brave choice to finish a blistering set with a slow, heartfelt ballad but it left us all wrung out.  As Taylor’s voiced tailed off, right at the very end, with “Try not to get upset, everything is fine. Hey, it’s not that big a deal, we’re all gonna die” I smiled and closed my eyes and enjoyed the last moments of being part of the Dawes family.

In a world where it’s easier for a musician to get his music out there but harder for him to make a living, I’ve pondered how those at the coalface keep going and make money. I think the ability of artists to show us, in person, what they’re made of, can be a significant factor in their success. I remember thinking, in 1981 as I watched U2 at Tiffany’s Ballroom, Glasgow and again in 2010 when I journeyed to Blackpool to catch Biffy Clyro – these guys have got what it takes to become huge. I wasn’t wrong. And I don’t think I’m wrong about Dawes either. 

I think I’m known for my enthusiasm and tendency for superlative, but I think I’ve just seen the best live band in the world, play the best small venue in the world. Perhaps for one night only, but I’m so glad it was tonight.