You’d have been right to assume that both Dawes and Vetiver — heirs to California-rock traditions — would each pay tribute to a recently deceased hero during their Theatre at Ace Hotel show Saturday night.
You’d have been wrong to assume it would be Glenn Frey, the Eagles co-founder who died last Monday.
Vetiver closed its opening set honoring Lemmy Kilmister, of all people, though not with Motorhead metal madness, but rather his earlier band Hawkwind’s “Hurry Sundown,” a hippie jam that was a very nice fit with the San Francisco group’s slightly lysergic, Moby Grape-ish vibe.
And Dawes, headlining a sold-out homecoming show at this over-the-top-ornate Deco-Rococo palace, transitioned from its closing “All Your Favorite Bands” with the glorious, sing-along, youth-celebration coda of “All the Young Dudes.” That, of course, is the David Bowie song that was a 1972 hit for Mott the Hoople, whose drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin passed away just a week after Bowie. “All Your Favorite Bands” is the title song from the band’s latest album, a generous benediction to a leaving lover with the wish “may all your favorite bands stay together.” The recent pop-star deaths give that wish a heavier, deeper tone, and this pairing proved perfect.
Arguably, it was a tough week for a band so clearly inspired by the Eagles, Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, Nash and (sometimes) Young, especially in a spotlight gig in the city where the Eagles ruled the roost for so long. The choice of Bowie to honor so explicitly seemed neither avoidance nor deflection, but rather a fitting conclusion to a concert that, while not hiding the SoCal inspirations, triumphantly transcended and moved well beyond them.
The band was visibly pumped by the enthusiastic fans, especially a highly animated frontman Taylor Goldsmith, several times noting the milestone nature of this gig for them, right down to people selling unauthorized bootleg T-shirts outside. (He was really excited about that.) It’s a long way from 2008 and near-empty gigs at the Silverlake Lounge and such, he said. He capped opener “Things Happen,” from the new album, with a beaming, “Hello Los Angeles! Home sweet home!” And in the next song, “Don’t Send Me Away,” he gave some extra emphasis to the line, “This is where I’m supposed to be.” As such, the night was at once return and arrival, with a robust sound and presence to match.
The founding core of Goldsmith, his drummer-brother Griffin and bassist Wylie Gelber has evolved into a dynamo, capable of tenderness and power alike, the latter not always captured on the records. But the addition to the touring band last year of guitarist Duane Betts — yes, the son of former Allman Bros. guitarist Dickie Betts, named after the late Duane Allman — not only brings out the Southern in the Southern California sound at times, but allows for some nifty contrast/complement twin-guitar runs with the equally accomplished Taylor G. And very new is keyboardist Lee Pardini, at times offering organ drawing out the Dylanesque qualities of several songs, at other times piano that serves almost as jazzier answer to Christine McVie’s Fleetwood Mac parts.
The roots and influences are still there, clear to anyone to hear. “If I Wanted Someone” could easily have been sung by Frey, circa the Eagles’ “On the Border” album. “From a Window Seat,” taken from the 2013 album “Stories Don’t End,” has vague echoes of “One of These Nights” in its steady rhythm. But now those seem like mere reference points and not the point, as Dawes’ own sound grows. That was abundantly clear in the latter part of the show when veteran L.A. pedal steel wizard Greg Leisz sat in, adding even more dimension to the music — and not the obvious country stylings. Most impressive, perhaps, was the first song on which he played, a version of the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues,” that transformed the Celtic skip of the original to an audacious, dramatic, powerful portrayal of hopes and dreams.
That is what marked the show, right through the rousing, sentimental Bowie tribute to close. Then the lights came on and, over the P.A., blared Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.,” celebrating the home team’s victory. Hey, it’s not like the Lakers are using it much these days.
Photos by Brian Feinzimer