If achieving success as a live rock act is defined by delivering exactly what your audience is looking for, then Dawes has reached its granite phase. After touring as an opening band for a year or two, then headlining smaller venues last year, the Los Angeles quartet bolted onto the 9:30 Club stage last Friday kicking and screaming (well maybe not exactly screaming, but definitely yelling a whole lot), and opened its set with a jammed-out version of “My Girl to Me” and a metric shit-ton of energy. There were no rock lasers, no light shows, not even a backdrop -- just four guys playing their songs to an adoring D.C. crowd. The sold-out club was packed with a wildly mixed-age crowd, in what turned out in the end to be a massive sing-a-long.
Dawes’ live show has an almost ridiculous amount of energy, which is in stark contrast to the mellow 1970’s sound of a lot of their recorded stuff. At times the stage performances were more what you’d expect in front of a crowd of 35,000 at the Horde Festival, rather 1,300 people at the 9:30 Club. Manning the front of the stage, guitarist/lead singer Taylor Goldsmith and bassist Wylie Gelber seemed intent on keeping their feet off the ground for most of the evening - Goldsmith rent himself into knots on several tracks, and performed enough old school rock-n-roll leaps and karate kicks to garner himself 50,000 bonus points on Guitar Hero. Waifishly thin Gelber spent most of the night on his tiptoes, his body undulating like a willow tree as he played.
Drummer Griffin Goldsmith took over the main vocals on several songs, including “How Far We’ve Come,” thereby allowing his brother Taylor to focus on guitar solos and keeping his solidly 1976-styled red Adidas kicks high in the air. Dawes live adds a layer of electric to their songs, and it’s a vibe the crowd was more than happy to surf. For “When My Time Comes,” which by the loud-o-meter inside my head was the definitive crowd favorite of the night, T. Goldsmith dedicated it to all the newbies. Going so far as to kick the mike around to the crowd for more effective sing-alongedness, the evening took a clear Neil Diamond turn, the house lights went up, and Dawes fans sang their guts out.
If there’s a down side to all this energy, it’s that a lot of the underlying sweetness, the soul, of some of these songs is trampled under a barrage of guitar solos. “Little Bit of Everything,” for example, is a heartfelt, honest little ditty leading off Dawes’ new album Nothing is Wrong, and it details the overwhelming power of the small details. In keeping with the blueprint of the evening, Dawes shoved three guitar solos into it and tossed in a few "fucks" for edge, and if you like the recorded version, you may not recognize the ‘roided up live alternative. However, the crowd at the front of the stage developed an instant crush on “Everything’s” louder, angrier twin, and hollered out every lyric in time with T. Goldsmith’s prompts. So there was hollering? Of course there was hollering - it was a Dawes live show.
The band closed a three-song encore with “My Way Back Home.” The studio track is a mellow, Jackson Browne sound-alike, but for the live performance Dawes amped it up with a few extra guitar solos, just to keep the fists pumping and to convince the crowd to stay just a little bit longer. The roadies didn’t mind, and the producer didn’t mind. And when it was over a lot of Dawes fans went back home very, very happy. And probably hoarse.