I’m probably a bad musician. In fact, I know I am. I don’t go to a lot of shows. They’re expensive, parking can be difficult, I’m required to be around a lot of people; sometimes said people are drunk and obnoxious enough to interfere with my enjoyment of the music. I have a hard time justifying going to shows where the band or artist is acclaimed enough to warrant a large venue like American Airlines, since I’ll basically be watching the show from a screen, and if I’m going to do that, I might as well watch from a screen at home, amirite?
As soon as tickets went on sale for “An Evening with Dawes” at The Bomb Factory, I snatched them up. I can arguably say they’re my favorite band at this point in my life. They’re incredibly prolific, the songwriting is sharply smart yet intimately relatable, I love their musicality and arrangements and I can listen to any one of their fantastic albums anytime, anywhere. Their latest release, “Passwords,” is no exception. They have continued to experiment with new, creative sounds, yet they still sound so quintessentially Dawes. I’ve especially taken a liking to the song “Crack the Case,” a lush, raw, emotional exploration of the age-old question: “how can we put aside our differences and just live together?” But of course, in true Dawes-fashion, it accomplishes this clearly yet poignantly, free of clichés.
Disclaimer: this is not a concert review. It’s an admittedly long-winded depiction of my first experience seeing my now-favorite band play. A review of your first time seeing your favorite band would probably be a bad, biased review, right? If you don’t want to slough through several paragraphs of gushing, I give you full permission to bail now. Totally. I won’t be offended.
My date for Saturday evening (and forever date & husband, Zach) and I experienced a series of fortunate events which resulted in a practically seamless concert experience. After deliberating whether we should take an Uber into Deep Ellum from our home East of White Rock Lake or paying $20 to park in the Bomb Factory lot, we settled on the latter (parking in Deep Ellum time and time again proves to be a blood-pressure-elevating event). However, to our surprise and delight we spotted a vacant meter spot just across the street (without even having to circle the block). We then ran into our favorite spot, Angry Dog, hopped up to the bar, ordered, ate and left within a span of 15 minutes (record time for dinner!) and still made it into the venue, procured our drinks and staked out a spot in the stage right front row, leaning against the railing with 30 minutes to downbeat.
About a quarter past 8:00, Lee Pardini sauntered onto stage and took his place in his beautifully-set up keyboard paradise and began to play some synth pads. The crowd cheered. I glanced around to get an idea of what a Dawes crowd looks like, and how big it was. I could only really see up to a few rows behind me before they blurred into obscurity. A span of ages. A few beards, and a smattering of caps. A couple of people in Beto gear. I briefly wondered if Taylor would say something about our Texas Senate-hopeful, who had attracted national attention in the most high-profile senate race in the country. The rest of the band emerged. We cheered. We were positioned right beneath the feet of the guitar player, whom I didn’t know. Taylor Goldsmith walked from stage left to stage right, addressing as much of the audience as possible, in true rock-star fashion. This surprised me. I expected more of a withdrawn singer-songwriter type. Not Ray Lamontagne-reclusive, but the reserved-yet-confident Taylor Goldsmith I had seen in intimate, acoustic performance videos online.
I could see every band member’s face exceptionally well except for Griffin Goldsmith, who was obscured by one of his cymbals. No matter. I hoped at some point, he’d come around to our side of the stage to sing with Taylor (later in the evening, I would discover I was right). They opened, as I predicted (I had seen a set list on Instagram from their Austin show the night before) with the first single off their new album, “Living in the Future,” a rocking, synth-heavy tune, which probably wouldn’t really be my bag if it hadn’t been written and performed by Dawes, but it was, and I was there for it. In fact, much of their first set felt like a rock show, at least in energy and Taylor’s presence. Every musical decision was incredibly deliberate, and their intros were carefully designed so as to rarely give away what song would come next. Taylor used a lot of hand gestures to highlight the lyrics in animated, almost theatrical fashion, which again, is not a behavior of many performing singer-songwriters, who tend to adopt a more understated, too-cool-for-school approach. I appreciated this, as while they did present this as a rock show, Taylor managed to emphasize the importance of the lyrics and storytelling over pure showoffery and self-indulgent rock and roll.
Though “Passwords” was released just a few months ago, they played selections from every album, including an energized re-imagining of “Bear Witness” (one of my favorite examples of great storytelling in song, particularly in the line about the dog), “A Little Bit of Everything” (I cried, of course), “Most People” and “From a Window Seat.” When Taylor announced “As many of you know, I’m getting married pretty soon,” the crowd cheered, of course, knowing his bride-to-be was the relevant as ever Mandy Moore. The song he played about this topic, “Never Gonna Say Goodbye,” will always be a solid choice for Texas audiences, since we tend to get riled up at the lyric “Like the last few boys at the Alamo…” Then, an intermission followed by more Dawes; another aspect of perfection for audiences who just want to hear as much as possible from their “Favorite Band.”
I was still in line at the bar when Taylor re-emerged without fanfare to play a new song, solo. I abandoned my post and snaked my way through the suddenly darkened crowd to resume my spot. I got goosebumps as the sound of rain came down on the roof, serving as a beautiful backing track to Taylor’s acoustic guitar and voice. Lee and Griffin (Griffin came out on our side - yay!) joined him for three-part harmonies on “Love is All I Am,” and I got a first hand taste of the YouTube videos I had been enjoying of their abbreviated group. Griffin retreated and Taylor and Lee played a gorgeous rendition of my second favorite track off “Passwords" - “My Greatest Invention” on piano and acoustic guitar.
The band came back and played more high energy songs. I realized just how danceable many Dawes songs could be, especially with the party anthem “When the Tequila Runs Out.” Then came my favorite moment of the evening. “I’m jealous of all of you in Texas,” Taylor said, “because you have the opportunity to vote for Beto O’ Rourke!” [The majority of] the crowd went nuts. He then dedicated my favorite song off the last album to Beto, “Crack the Case,” a perfect testament to finding common ground and understanding. “I wanna sit with my enemies and say we should have done this sooner…while I look them in the face. Maybe that will crack the case.”
The evening couldn’t get any more perfect, right? Wrong. After leaving the venue, Zach & I walked right across the street to our car and pulled out with no problem, laughing at the cars caught in traffic going the other direction, and were home before 11:30. It was a thirty-something’s dream come true.
This was also our first time at The Bomb Factory, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was clean, easy to navigate, the staff was friendly, the drink selection was simple (not a lot of local selections, no craft cocktails) but completely expected at a music venue of that magnitude, we got a great view of the stage and never felt too crowded.
“What did you learn tonight?” Zach asked on our drive home. It took me a while, but here are my conclusions from the evening:
Singer-Songwriters can rock, too.
You can get a crowd to dance and still send them away with a message.
Dawes is the perfect band.
May they stay together.