Dawes Delivers at the Vogue Theatre
by Peter Grainger
“Thanks for hangin’ on with us, for us, all this time,” commented Taylor Goldsmith to his Vancouver fans at the Vogue Theatre on this chilly November night. The flamboyant Dawes singer/guitarist and prime focus of the LA-based folk-rockers intimated
they had planned on playing Vancouver long before now, but the pandemic put paid to that plan! “It’s taken us a long time to get here…”, meaning it’s taken everyone in the room—artist and audience alike— far too long to get through the worst of Covid,
to feel confident enough to brave the post-pandemic jitters to actually attend a real, live rock show. Not that anyone was taking too many chances; to attend you needed to be able to prove you’ve been doubled-vaxxed and both the venue and the band
requested punters stay in their seats and keep their masks on.
The Vancouver show—only the third time they’ve played Canada’s West Coast in their 12-year record-label-hopping career so far— was the first night of the second leg of their first post-pandemic tour, which began stateside earlier in the fall. So
they were well-rested. And it showed, judging from all the high energy and good vibes coming off the stage. The band was as eager as the fans to finally be playing live and on their terms. Their first Vancouver show was a much more low-key gig at
the Rickshaw; and the last time in town, Dawes opened for Kings of Leon at the much larger Rogers Arena. But this was the first time where Dawes was headlining on a substantial stage, with a full-lighting rig and bigger, better gear.
Opening with the punchy title track of their latest album “Good Luck With Whatever”, Goldsmith led his feisty band-mates on a free-wheeling, sparks-on-the-guard-rail trip through Dawes deep, dark and diversified catalogue. What followed was a
two-hour tour-de-force of talent; Goldsmith is the obvious draw; he is a front-man of the first order, as theatrical as Prince, and like the Artist-Formerly-Known As, he can play lead guitar lines as pointed and passionate as the Purple One.
And like Prince or Freddie Mercury, Goldsmith sings as comically churlish and candidly confident as they did. This is one of the things that strikes anyone seeing Dawes for the first time after hearing the records, just how powerful the band sounds
on stage. Dawes parade a playful fusion of folk and rock, but more on the rock side live.
No doubt, these guys grew up loving grunge, punk and 90s indie-rock like Cracker, Gin Blossoms and Counting Crows, but also must be impressed by acts their Dads laid on them, both the Beatles and the Stones, Dylan and The Band, the Laurel Canyon
crew of CSNY, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, and jamming-bands like The Allman Brothers, Little Feat and the Grateful Dead. I realise this is a lot of name-dropping, but Dawes has soaked up so many influences, spitting out songs that are simply
as good as their peers and the great pillars of the past. That said, like many good fusion rock acts, like Canada’s own Arkells or America’s Tedeschi Trucks Band or Ireland’s U2, Dawes sweats so much musical tradition through their pores, yet
they smell and sound entirely uniquely their own.
Dawes never play the same set twice; every night it changes. And yet this night’s selection made for such a perfect show, you’d rightly wonder why this particular set-list isn’t etched into stone, and dragged from city-to-city, for the rest of
time, or at least until the rest of this 2021 tour is done.
Five songs followed from five different albums, showing how easily Dawes can pluck songs from such an amazing array of albums; from the 2016 anthemic rocker “Roll with the Punches” and equally effusive “Stay Down” from a year or so later, resonate
in the same way as Tom Petty’s “Swingin’…” These are the kind of songs that make you want to get out of bed in the morning! Two true sing-alongs follow; the Beatlesque “From a Window Seat” clips along in tight and tidy formation, like the early Fabs
hits did, while the recent “Me Especially” slows the pace, yet opens the space, showing how bassist Wylie Gelber anchors the sound with Goldsmith’s drumming brother Griffin, who definitely knows his rim-shots from his paradiddles. Griffin is a singing
drummer too—harmony duties he shares with keyboardist Lee Pardini (their resident jazz fiend, who is as accomplished and complimentary to Goldsmith’s songcraft, as Garth Hudson was to The Band).
The calm is soon all shot to hell when Dawes spits out their Mexi-Cali flavoured romp, “When the Tequila Runs Out”. On record the full effect of the song is muted by a less-than-inebriated delivery. More wacky than wild. But on stage, “Tequila” becomes
a canyon screamer, giving Goldsmith and second guitarist Trevor Menear a chance to duke it out. A few songs later, “Feed The Fire” affords Dawes another, longer opportunity to jam; everyone takes solos. It is like Green Day taunting the Grateful Dead
into a ten-round sparring match, with the Allman Brothers waiting ringside to spell off Garcia & Co, if the punks start drawing blood. The Allmans are an inspired case-in-point, as earlier in its history, part of Dawes’ touring band was Duane Betts,
son of Allmans guitarist Dickey Betts.
“Comes in Waves” comes next—an as-of-yet-to-be recorded song—which has a soaring cinematic wall-of-sound, ringing true to their Californian roots, by including drop dead gorgeous Beach Boys harmonies. Why not, considering Dawes draws so much sonic
juice from so many sources. Another stylistic shift hits, as the band exits, leaving Goldsmith alone on stage with just a solo acoustic guitar to sing a quietly desperate howl-in-the-night tale. It’s about a young guy trying to cope, just able to
hang on, providing everyone leaves him alone to recharge his mental reserves in “St. Augustine at Night”; here Goldsmith sounds more like Harry Chapin or a chaste Jimmy Buffett in his coffee house days, than his usual Billy-Armstrong-in-overdrive.
It is a touching moment, as the Vogue hushed to hold-yer-breath silence, not a cough or even a whisper could be heard. That respect blew Goldsmith away, who for once, was speechless, although later he showered profuse praises on his pamperers, not panderers.
The show proper ended with another Dawes epic— and one of their better known-- “Time Spent in Los Angeles”, judging by the vocal accompaniment of the audience—young and old—who knew the song by heart. After five minutes of deafening applause, the
encore kicked off with the newest Dawes anthem, “Still Feel Like A Kid”. It has a sentiment we can all relate too, because after all, we adults are just kids—older kids maybe—but kids nonetheless. It is a classic 3-and-a-half minute single—which
deserves to be a hit, if rock radio didn’t have its head buried so far up its butt. Ditto 2015’s “All Your Favourite Bands”, with its buoyant refrain, borrowing the opening piano chords from The Beatles equally-uplifting “Let It Be”, which really
tugs at the old heart strings; Goldsmith croons, “I hope your brother’s El-Camino runs forever… and may all your favorite bands stay together.” Let it be, indeed. Which brings an exhilarating cheer from the crowd, encouraging Dawes to stick it out
for an even longer haul than they already have. There is an acapella chorus section at the end of the song, which is embroidered beautifully by the collective harmony wail of everyone in the room—again artist and audience alike.
That’s not quite all; Dawes being Dawes, they have more to give, sending us on our way with their true power ballad, ”My Way Back Home”. It has gained power since its release a decade ago, becoming a deep prayer for happy and healthy times ahead.
In this age of earthquakes and forest fires, droughts and floods, volcanos and viruses, despots and the disconnected, one is thankful for music that instructs, inspires and improves. Dawes delivers.
- Good Luck with Whatever
- My Girl to Me
- Roll with the Punches
- So Well
- Somewhere Along the Way
- Stay Down
- From A Window Seat
- Me Especially
- When the Tequila Runs Out
- Come In Waves
- St. Augustine At Night
- Feed The Fire
- Time Spent In Los Angeles
- - - -
- I Still Feel Like A Kid!
- All Your Favorite Bands
- My Way Back Home