Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Monday in the Park with Dawes Proves Rather Pleasing -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opener The Cairo Gang
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Millennium Park, Chicago
July 8, 2013

Over the last 5 years--let's say since the beginning of 2008--I have attended approximately 170 rock concerts.

Excepting opening acts and bands passively seen at festivals, until Monday night the sum total of shows seen by artists who had arisen during that span--i.e. released their first album in '08 or since--was: 1.

That was Fleet Foxes, and I wasn't even all that wowed by them.

Though I admittedly no longer enjoy standing room only venues or festivals, at which younger bands often perform, it isn't that I've consciously avoided checking out anyone new; I just haven't come across anyone I've been compelled to see (and yes, that statement includes Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver, Vampire Weekend and MGMT).

So although Free Admission was undeniably part of the draw that brought me to Millennium Park to see Dawes on Monday night, it is still somewhat notable that I took a flyer on the L.A. band despite not owning any of their three albums released since 2009. (see Dawes' page on

And it wasn't until the day before the show that I listened to much of their stuff on Spotify (see my concert prep playlist below).

My familiarity with Dawes largely stems from seeing them streaming live on YouTube during Lollapalooza and perhaps another festival. Though they didn't overexcite me--this was a few years back and I didn't buy their albums--they seemed pretty solid.

And they proved to be certainly worth checking out at the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion on a night when rain threatened but only brought a few (for me, welcome, given the humidity) drizzles.

Wikipedia describes Dawes--fronted by singer/lead guitarist Taylor Goldsmith, whose brother Griffin plays drums--as being "part of the Laurel Canyon sound, which often cites influences such as Crosby, Stills & Nash and Neil Young, among others."

As I was listening to them Monday, after having familiarized myself with songs from recent concert setlists, I sensed a blending of Neil Young and the Eagles (without scaling the heights of either), especially given their penchant for sweet harmonies. Taylor Goldsmith played some impressive guitar leads and the band rocks a step harder than "mellow," but they also remind a bit of other So Cal staples like Jackson Browne, and while not nearly as acerbic, Warren Zevon. Fans of Wilco might also find something similar to like in Dawes.

"From a Window Seat," the first track from their new album, Stories Don't End, opened the show and sounded good, with Tay Strathairn's piano coming across vibrantly within the Pritzker's strong outdoor acoustics (I was able to get a seat in a front section of the unfilled seating area).

Other highlights to follow included "If I Wanted Someone," "Fire Away," "Someone Will," "Time Spent in Los Angeles," "From the Right Angle" and "When My Time Comes" (off their 2009 debut, North Hills), which had the crowd on its feet and singing along.

Despite being overdressed on an 80-some degree night in a long-sleeve flannel and jeans, Goldsmith proved amiable and appreciative in saying he couldn't imagine playing in "a more beautiful setting," and that this was the band's (which also includes Wylie Gelber on bass) largest crowd yet in Chicago, including their Lollapalooza appearance.

The show began at 6:30pm with about 45 minutes from Chicago-based The Cairo Gang, a rather multi-generational band with members seemingly ranging from their early 20's to late 50's. They sounded pretty good if a bit repetitive (the first song had a nice Velvet Underground type of vibe, but the rest seemed to share the same drumbeat) and I certainly didn't mind hearing them.

But I think they were unnecessary given that Dawes played about 7 fewer songs in Chicago than at recent tour stops--and no encores--with Goldsmith noting the need to abbreviate their set.

While I'm impressed and appreciative that the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events
was able to book a band like Dawes--not huge, but garnering airplay on WXRT and making a bit of a name for themselves--for a free "Downtown Sound" concert, given that the headliners were clearly who fans had come to see, shortening their set due to an opening act seems a bit silly.

Looking at recent Dawes setlists, covers of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight" and the Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line," seem to be staples and I would've liked to have heard them. But they were dropped in favor of a full set of originals, and even a bit fewer of those were played in the band's 75 minutes onstage

Still, I liked what I heard, and while I would've been happy with a bit more, it likely wouldn't have upped my @@@@ rating (out of 5). At this point, Dawes isn't a historic band, nor even likely a truly great one. But they're very good and working their way up, which is more than I can say for other contemporary acts of which I'm aware.

I wouldn't even mind seeing them again, and not just for free.

Here's a bit of "From a Window Seat," that I shot; sorry for the blurriness. And beneath is a Spotify concert primer for Dawes that I compiled from recent setlists; not everything was played in Chicago, but most.

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