Every so often you hear a song on the radio whose beauty and genius punches through the background buzz as you go abut your day. I recently had one of those moments while driving. This great tune came floating out of the speakers in my minivan. “She went from table manners, to tunnel vision, to premature farewell.” went the opening lines. The music behind those lyrics was so perfectly retro that I figured that I was listening to some long lost Jackson Browne track from the ‘70s. “But somewhere along the way, the dots didn’t all connect, the promises became regrets,” went the chorus, and I was already planning on searching iTunes for the track when I got home. Then the deejay came on at the end and revealed that I had been listening to the new single by the Los Angeles band Dawes. Part of me was surprised, but not overly.
I first heard Dawes a couple years back when the song “From a Window Seat” was a popular radio single. That song, as well as “Stories Don’t End,” the album it came from, also had that undeniable Laurel Canyon sound from the ‘70s, when acts like Neil Young, The Eagles, and yes, even Jackson Browne ruled the rock and roll roost. After getting a chance to see them live at the Southern Ground Music Fest and then opening for Bob Dylan at the Family Circle Stadium, I’ve become a big fan of the band. Led by singer-guitarist Taylor Goldsmith, the five-piece band manages to be professionally tight while still sounding suitably laid back.
This past Saturday night Dawes returned to the Lowcountry for a sold-out show at the Charleston Music Hall. After previously only seeing the band in outdoor venues, I was looking forward to hearing how the band’s music filled a great hall like the one on John Street in historic downtown Charleston. Prior to Dawes performing, the crowd was treated to an incredibly satisfying set by Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland. Moreland’s casual look, complete with tattoos and mesh trucker ball cap, completely belied the incredible voice that emerged from his throat. Oh, and the words that voice sang? Pure songwriting genius. He led off with “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars,” which is the sort of composition that would make the likes of Steve Earle sit up and take notice. Moreland’s mournful singing voice certainly doesn’t sound like it’s coming from a thirty year old man, and as he progressed through his catalog of songs the Charleston audience actually sat quietly and took notice. That’s really saying something, as local audiences are notorious for going to shows to be seen, with many choosing to yammer on during the opening band and occasionally into the headliner’s set. Saturday night though Moreland held that crowd in the palm of his hand, and I’m guessing he sold more than a few CDs out in the lobby. Count me in as his newest fan.
Dawes apparently feels the same way about Moreland, because midway through that band’s set Goldsmith welcomed the opener back out to play a couple of songs. Dawes demonstrated why they’ve risen quickly in the ranks as a must-see band, performing a set that included “Things Happen,” the leadoff track from its latest album “All Your Favorite Bands,” as well as older tracks such as “If I Wanted Someone,” “From a Window Seat,” and the beautiful “Peace in the Valley.”
The majority of the crowd stayed on their feet for the entire show, and I can pretty much guarantee that if you weren’t a Dawes fan going into Saturday night’s show, then you were coming out. In this age of prepackaged pop and artificial electronic sounds that are supposed to pass for music, getting to see a well-oiled rock band at the height of its power is a truly exhilarating thing.