A thin crowd made it out to the Pour House on Halloween night, clearly tired and hung over from a weekend of Halloweening (only about half of the folks were dressed up), to see the L.A.-based folk-rockers Dawes.
The first thing I noticed was how young they were — and how polished and mature they sounded. The oldest member, lead singer Taylor Goldsmith, is only 23, but his voice possessed an interesting combination of the yearning, youthful innocence of the Band's Rick Danko and the Eagles' Glenn Frey with a power all his own. Goldsmith's younger brother Griffin is only 18, but he sang great backup vocals, and even dif lead vocals on a few tunes, all the while snarling like he wanted to inflict pain on his drum set.
Alex Casnoff also contributed strong harmony vocals and drove every song with his piano. And Wylie Gelber, one of the two original members with the elder Goldsmith, kept up the tight rhythm all night. Even though he doesn't sing, Gelber is a dead ringer for a young Danko; tall and skinny with long, dark hair and a bass guitar in his hands.
Their third song, "My Girl To Me," off their 2009 self-titled debut, was an early highlight, one of the few where Goldsmith showed off his guitar chops and one of the many where he killed it vocally. Goldsmith then introduced a new song about "being a band from L.A.," which will be on a new album coming out next year. "We don't have a name for [the new album] yet," he continued. "So if you have any suggestions, let us know." Immediately a fan yelled, "Dawesome!" and Goldsmith agreed, saying, "That's what we'll call it."
Casnoff had nice harmonies on the tune but it was quite poppy with somewhat cheesy lyrics. The next song, the slowed-down, well-known crooner, "Love Is All I Am," brought the show back a few decades, where it belonged. This dichotomy between the cliché of current pop with the meaning and quality of their influences resurfaced a few times.
The remarkably intense Griffin Goldsmith sang lead on another new track, the boisterous and drum-centric "How Far I've Come," with both of the other singers screaming along. More tracks like these, with solid songwriting and great, driven melodies can take Dawes where they where they want to go. However, another new song, "Fire Away," did not deliver. It sounded like just another pop song, with vague lyrics and little else. It can be a thin line between a bland pop song and a simple quality rock song, and this band is in the process of figuring that out.
They saved their most popular (and best) song for last, the hit "When My Time Comes." But even after their one-song encore, the show only timed in at an hour and 10 minutes. It was late on a Sunday night, the crowd was small, and the band didn't have that many songs, but they have to play longer concerts if they want to be taken seriously as a live act.
These guys are so young, and they will grow into either a good pop act or a great band. It's clear they want to make great music, and they have the passion and the skill, but it is easy to get sucked into the black hole that is the music industry. As long as they keep the heart, and I think they will, they can do it the right way.