If someone invites you to witness one of the best touring bands perform at one of the smallest venues in your city-right after their two-night, sold-out residency at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville-you drop everything and go. And so we did.
Sunday night’s “An Evening with Dawes” at Revelry Room in Chattanooga was a nearly sold-out, intimate concert with a band I’ve seen three times before. It had been several years since my last Dawes show-they opened for and served as the backing band for Conor Oberst at Track 29 in 2014. The latest concert revealed an energized, wildly different-sounding (in a good way) band than what I’d seen before. It was more than a treat to witness for all those in attendance.
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When someone asks me to describe Dawes, I usually say something like “Jackson Browne with an edge” or “mindful ’70s folk-rock.” With the caveat being that while the albums are good, there is no better way to experience Dawes than a live show. I was concerned that after two nights at the Ryman they might not have enough in the tank for a full effort at Revelry Room, but from the first note I knew we were about to witness something special.
Dawes, a Los Angeles-based American folk-rock band, are currently on tour in support of their 2016 album “We’re All Gonna Die,” a record that found the band trading the Laurel Canyon sound of their previous albums with a much more synthesized, keyboard-heavy and dreamy sound. Honestly, I was convinced the band had blown everything when I first heard the single “When the Tequila Runs Out.” However, I trusted Goldsmith knew what he was doing. You kind of have to let artists do their thing and appreciate everything, even if it’s not for you.
I consider songs like “When My Time Comes,” “All Your Favorite Bands” and “From a Window Seat” to be among my favorite songs, but hearing Goldsmith sing about an L.A. pool party and drinking tequila was weird. His lyrics are often written as if he’s watching the world unfold around him. Then he explains “the lesson” for us all to take from it, or a little nugget of wisdom about living life, love or something existential. Fortunately, other songs from the new album-“Roll with the Punches,” “Quitter,” “Less Than Five Miles Away” and the title track-are welcome additions to the band’s repertoire. It just took my hearing them live for me to truly appreciate them. I’m still not drinking the tequila Kool-Aid though.
Sunday night’s show-a 25-song, three-hour showcase-was the best Dawes concert I’ve ever seen. Let’s get that out of the way at the start. It was also one of the best overall concerts-Chattanooga or otherwise-that I’ve attended in years. Dawes has everything I want in a band: great lyrics, amazing guitar playing, catchy songs and an accessibility to their fans in a way that a majority of stars aren’t.
We arrived at 8 p.m. and stood near the middle of the room for the first set. Billed as just “an evening with Dawes,” the band took the stage shortly after 8 p.m. and launched into “Quitter” from the new album followed by crowd favorite “If I Wanted Someone.” Immediately, the set turned into a guitar lover’s dream. During an early guitar solo, someone next to me said, “damn, that guy plays like the Allman Brothers,” referring to the new-to us-bearded Trevor Menear alongside Goldsmith. The Dawes sound was filled out by bassist Wylie Gelber and keyboardist Lee Pardini along with Griffin Goldsmith on drums and vocals.
The crowd was an interesting mix of folks. There were hippie kids, older hippies, bros and one guy in particular who knew every lyric to every song and made everyone around him aware of that fact. He also did that thing where he would turn around and face the crowd to see who was paying attention to him. Occasionally, he would point his beer to the sky and howl. I saw a group of college girls squeal when Goldsmith started playing “When the Tequila Comes Out” in the middle of the first set. Another guy in front of me kept flipping his ponytail in my face so we moved to the back of the room for the rest of the set. Goldsmith should write a song about his crowds.
A highlight for me came at the end of the first set. There’s a great part at the end of “When My Time Comes” when everybody sings the chorus. I’ve never heard it sung as loudly as it was last night at Revelry Room. Even the band seemed taken aback by the sheer force of the vocal wave.
As the band took a short break, we moved up to the front of the stage and stood directly underneath Menear for the second set. Goldsmith came back out alone and performed “Blood and Guts” and, later, was joined by his brother, drummer Griffin, on “Roll Tide.” Everybody but Menear came on stage to perform “Love Is All I Am,” which was a highlight for me. With all the electric guitar rock ‘n’ roll happening around me, I’ll always be a sucker for a poignant acoustic ballad. Especially this one.
The rest of the night was loud and jaw-dropping. The band continued with a five-song combination of “Somewhere Along the Way,” “Things Happen” (a personal favorite), “Coming Back to a Man,” “Bear Witness” and the quiet “Million Dollar Bill” in the middle of the set. Before the encore, the band led into “We’re All Gonna Die” with a cover of Shel Silverstein’s “Still Gonna Die,” a song that questions whether you should quit your vices because you’re going to die anyway. If “We’re All Gonna Die” is an indication of the direction Dawes is heading, I’m excited to see what else is up their sleeves. The cadence of the song was much more Attractions-era Elvis Costello than the previous Bob Dylan verse structure on past albums. The songwriting parameters have grown, in other words.
After a brief break, they came back on stage to perform “From the Right Angle” and “All Your Favorite Bands” to complete the night. Goldsmith seemed genuinely appreciative of the Sunday night turnout at the venue. And somehow-even after 25 songs-the crowd still chanted for more. If you get a chance to see Dawes live, especially in an intimate venue, don’t hesitate. I would argue they’re one of the best live bands in the game.
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