Review: Dawes at Belly Up Aspen
February 16, 2017
There's something comforting about a no-frills, guitar-driven rock 'n' roll show, something uniquely gratifying about being in the middle of a sold-out crowd singing along to the chorus of a great rock anthem led by a self-assured band that knows what it's doing on stage.
As rock's stature in the culture shrinks, there are fewer and fewer bands that can give you that jolt of communal joy — and fewer rock anthems with choruses worth singing along to.
But Dawes is fighting the good fight. As the quintet tore into the crowd-pleaser "When My Time Comes" and closed out the first of two full sets Feb. 11 at Belly Up, singer and lead guitarist Taylor Goldsmith spun his mic stand around toward the capacity crowd and turned his back — leaving the audience to belt out the chorus and revel in one of those magnificent rock concert moments.
It was the high point of a sturdy, meat-and-potatoes rock show by the Los Angeles-based band that ran nearly three hours between two full sets, an intermission and an encore, with few lulls in the action or energy.
They opened with the chugging "One of Us," from the new album, "We're All Gonna Die," but plucked from all five Dawes records over the course of the evening. The first set boasted memorable takes on "My Girl to Me" from the band's debut record eight years ago and "From a Window Seat" off 2013's "Stories Don't End," and the final three-song encore concluded with "All Your Favorite Bands" from 2015. The new record provided some of the night's best moments, though, including a take on "Picture of a Man" accentuated by a demented and distorted keyboard solo by Lee Pardini.
Everybody in the band, in fact, got a moment in the spotlight with digressive improvisational passages. But they kept the solos tight, never crossing over into noodling jam-band territory.
It was a mostly hard-charging rock show, though the second set opened with Goldsmith and his drummer brother, Griffin, singing a pair of stripped-down acoustic songs. Other than this interlude, they stuck largely to the rockers from the Dawes discography and amped-up versions of the band's folky tales of hard luck and love. After the brothers' duet, the band plugged back in for a rip-roaring run through "From the Right Angle," "Quitter" and "Right on Time."
Among the few duds in the show was the middling frat-rock song "Things Happen," which played like a mid-1990s Hootie and the Blowfish B-side. But in a long ride of a show like this one, they're not all going to go down smoothly.
The band closed the second set with the title track from the new record, beginning with Goldsmith singing an ironic acoustic intro, reminding the audience — with a wide smile on his face — that, no matter what you do, "you're still gonna die." Sure we are, but when you can lose yourself in a show like this one, who cares?