We Showed Chiefly for Chief, and Exited in Awe of Dawes

Nov 23rd, 2010 in Music

We escaped Chez Lefort Sunday night to saunter down to Soho, primarily to check out the great Santa Monica band, Chief.   Club Mercy put out the word that Chief had graciously agreed at the last minute to help out their friends, Dawes, and fill in the vacant opening slot at Soho.

We didn’t have to wait long for Chief to come on at 9pm and, despite uncooperative gear and unfortunate audience “participation,” proceeded to remind us why we hailed this Chief back in June. Lead singer, Evan Koga, was proud to let us know before their set that the band would be headlining at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC in two weeks as they swing through the East Coast on a mini-tour. That totemic achievement is well-deserved. Just back from a summertime spent playing the Euro-Festival circuit, the band has further honed its songs and talents, and delivered a great set comprised of songs off their sublime recent album, “Modern Rituals”, and a few earlier, Lefort-favored songs. Once again it was Chief’s group vocals and song-craft that drew us in.  Particular credit has to be given to Mike Moonves, the bass player, whose high harmonies mesh and lift Koga’s and Danny Fujikawa’s lead vocals (along with Michael’s valiant vocal effects and driving drum-work).   The band deserves particular credit for playing on despite an audience member unfortunately falling onto the stage mid-set (we hope she is OK) and into Danny, taking him down too.  The band briefly stopped to check on the fan and then Cal Ripkened-on to close their set strongly.  We look forward to seeing them headline in Santa Barbara in the near future, and with less distractions.

Next up was the forgettable Moondoggies, who struck us as a converted jam-band that ran up on the nose and pearled in the process.  We’d say that that conversion is still a work in process. While the band members were not untalented players and singers, they are a manager-shy of a compelling showing. Constructive criticism alert:  Someone (manager, parent, older sibling, anyone??) needs to let these guys know that until they’re headlining, they need to scale back the length of their decent, but somewhat simplistic, songs to about three minutes.  Maximum.  Enough with the unwarranted repetition fellas.  When you’re not headlining, and until you evolve more as songwriters and players, get in and get out on each song.  If not, you risk alienating an audience that is otherwise happy to give you the benefit of the doubt.  Such was the case this night.

Next up were headliners, Dawes, who came out and simply blew us away.  Lead singer, Taylor Goldsmith, has one of the best voices extant in an indie-band (0r otherwise) and plays flawless and inspired guitar.  The Band is an obvious influence on Goldsmith, whose guitar-playing oft sounds like Robbie Robertson (and Neil Young–just listen to his playing on If I Wanted Someone), and whose vocals vary between Rick Danko (which is plain in his straight ahead Danko delivery on That Western Skyline), Stephen Stills (as on If I Wanted Someone), John Fogerty (on God Rest My Soul, where he also smacks of Springsteen), and other vintage singers.  Taylor is surrounded and buoyed by three phenomenal band members.  The uber-Harpo-mopped drummer, Griffin Goldsmith (Taylor’s bro), pounds and pastes his drum-kit while laying on valiant vocal backing (singing lead on How Far We’ve Come, which has Avett Brothers vestiges).  And Griffin easily wins this or any year’s most-emotional-facial-expressions-by-a-drummer award. Alex Casnov supplies great keyboards, including Elton John flourishes (that’s a good thing in this instance), and hallmark harmonies.  And bassist Wylie Gelber is one of the better bass players we’ve seen on a small stage, with his precise and deft bottom line.

During their 90-minute set, Dawes worked their way through much of their debut record, “North Hills,” and a host of nascent songs off their impending Chris Walla-produced new record.  Make no mistake, if you want cutting-edge indie-rock, Dawes is not your band.  Instead they are steeped in 70s rock, and wear this vintage cloak incredibly well. Taylor often employs Springsteen and Southside Johnny-like theatrics (especially noted on their song Fire Away, which could be a track on Springsteen’s “The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle” with its lyrics such as “Or if you’ve got dreams that no one’s ever let you say, then fire away“). We oft-times blanch at such dramatics, but this is “shoe-biz” and in this instance we were happy to make an exception because of the otherwise perfect delivery.  Dawes is a well-greased machine that will mow you down if you’re in the mood for well-wrought mainstream rock ‘n roll.

We would be remiss if we didn’t comment on the phenomenon that has become Dawes’ set-ending anthem, When My Time Comes. We had seen the Fall 2010 Tour trailer and related videos, but still were wondrously won over when the song came up and Taylor turned the mic to the crowd.  The crowd perfectly sang-screamed the yearning chorus repeatedly before the band kicked back in to carry it to the end.  These are the moments that recall the greatest shows we’ve seen: where the crowd rises to the occasion and levies the night to new heights.  The evolutionary musical acts  Springsteen, The Clash, U2, Radiohead,  Arcade Fire and The National have been the masters of this effect.  It is frankly moments like these that get us out on a regular basis to shows.  And at least on this one song, Dawes adds itself to this luminous lineage.

Check out their live version in the video below.  If you aren’t moved in particular at the 3:59 mark on this video, you simply have no soul.

If you require better production, then this more-staid, but well-done, version is for you:

Check ’em out next time they come to your town.   Below are some other great samples of this band live.



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