Dawes’ new sounds spotlighted vibrantly at Grammy Museum show
Steve Hochman on
Some names you might expect came up in the conversation part of Dawes’ evening at the Grammy Museum on Thursday — Dylan, Petty, the Stones, Zevon, all clear touchstones. But also Rihanna, Kanye and Daft Punk. Oh, and Bieber. Yes, Bieber.
The latter artists were primarily raised, in turn raising some eyebrows, in the intimate Clive Davis Theatre, in relation to the sonic approaches the band took on its new album “We’re All Gonna Die.” It’s a sculpted, keyboards-forward set. (“MVP! MVP!” chanted band leader Taylor Goldsmith regarding the band’s newest member, Lee Pardini, the man behind those keyboards.) The sound at once builds on and stands apart from the increasingly sophisticated guitar-oriented settings of the band’s first four albums, culminating with last year’s masterful “All Your Favorite Bands.”
To be clear, Goldsmith and album producer Blake Mills (a lifelong pal of Goldsmith and his brother, drummer Griffin, and a member of the earliest incarnation of the band) cited Rihanna and Bieber in contexts of song and sound construction, not as specific artistic inspirations. And to be fair, the Kanye and Daft Punk references were in a Goldsmith remark from a few years back, dug up by the evening’s interviewer, Grammy Foundation and MusiCares exec Scott Goldman. Goldsmith noted that he mentioned those two in the course of looking at the place of “just” a rock band in the world of showy spectacle.
In any case, all of the big names kind of made sense when the band kicked off the performance portion of the night — one in the museum’s “Homegrown” series — with the album’s title song. In the soulful slow-burn, ruminative lyrics (not anywhere near as bleak as the title suggests, Goldsmith had noted) are matched and enhanced by a finely crafted arrangement, all the band’s pieces popping brightly, but the sum of the parts always the priority rather than individual playing.
From there, through four more songs from the new album and the last one’s “Things Happen,” the sound grew increasingly dense and intense, different elements grabbing hold here and there. “Roll With the Punches” put Pardini’s keyboards up front. Wylie Gelber’s bass was given a fuzz effect for “Quitter,” and again two songs later on “When the Tequila Runs Out.” In between, with Taylor Goldsmith switching from acoustic guitar to electric, “Pictures of a Man” took a mid-section side-trip to an organ solo from Pardini, but that grew into a powerful juggernaut with the whole ensemble folding in, Griffin Goldsmith’s drums both holding it together and providing complex accents.
The ultimate job it all accomplished, though, was to probe the intricate emotions of the songs, with Taylor inverting, fracturing, reflecting and reconstituting perspectives on matters both observational and personal — and more often both at once. After all, in the interview he cited Zevon’s “The French Inhaler” as his favorite song, marveling at how the songwriter was able to be so introspective and revealing in something ostensibly about Norman Mailer and Marilyn Monroe.
To wit, he introduced “Quitter” as being “in defense of quitting things,” encouraging us all to do just that. “Go ahead,” he said. “I’m on your team.”
And then, in the song’s chorus, he sang the point home: “You’re gonna have to quit everything until you find one thing you won’t.”
Seems he and his cohorts, five albums in, are achieving that quite nicely.
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