Dawes show their growth at the Jefferson

Exceptional songwriting drives California soft-rock band

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Dawes performed at the Jefferson Theater last Friday on the heels of their sixth studio album. 

Ben Hitchcock | Cavalier Daily

“Why we all are here tonight / Is to see how far we’ve come,” Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith sang during their first set at The Jefferson Theater last Friday. The California soft rock group stopped by Charlottesville in the midst of a tour supporting their latest album “Passwords,” released in June. 

To be sure, Dawes have come a long way. On the heels of their sixth studio album, the group has been eager to show how they’ve matured since arriving on the scene a decade ago. Dawes early music was often tinged with a heavy dose of world-weary adolescent confusion. “Anyone that's making anything new only breaks something else,” sang Goldsmith on “When My Time Comes,” one of the band’s early hits. “Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it's staring right back.” Now, that youthful angst has been replaced by something a little more self-assured.

“Gonna sing a song about my wife,” Goldsmith announced during the show on Friday. Goldsmith married actress and musician Mandy Moore in November, and his happy romance has influenced the group’s songwriting. The comment lead into “Never Gonna Say Goodbye”, one of the standout tracks from the new album. Goldsmith turns his clever songwriting to an  earnest end. “Like the last few boys at the Alamo / Like Cusack holding that stereo / Or what Juliet hears from Romeo / I’m never gonna say goodbye.”

Goldsmith’s songwriting has always been the group’s ace in the hole, and at The Jefferson, the group put that songwriting on display. The highlight of the show came early, when the band closed the first set with a drawn-out rendition of “A Little Bit of Everything,” from their second album. A twinkling, almost classical piano solo from keyboardist Lee Pardini led into a spare verse from Goldsmith before the rest of the band jumped in piece by piece. 

The song tells three stories that could easily feel saccharine in less distinguished hands, but Goldsmith’s deft touch manages to convey melancholy without too much melodrama. A man on the Golden Gate Bridge ponders jumping, a retiree reflects from a buffet line, a woman writes wedding invitations. Goldsmith’s commitment to small details keeps these stories surprising. The man stands on the “bridge’s side that faces towards the jail,” and says he’s been driven there because “It's the mountains / It’s the fog / It’s the news at six o’clock / It’s the death of my first dog.” The man in the buffet line wants “The biscuits and the beans / Whatever helps me to forget about / The things that brought me to my knees.” These stories, somehow, have a sense of humor.

Dawes play soft rock — they are the sonic equivalent of a warm shower. The music flows with the gentle constancy of rushing water, slowly refreshing, rarely energizing. Goldsmith’s voice amplifies this sense, so often dripping the notes lower and lower as a line progresses, starting high and reedy before tumbling down into a quiet baritone. Their music is distinctive for its rounded corners. 

But Dawes have always retained just enough fire to set them apart from the rest of the pack. They leaven their melancholy with wit, and on Friday, they showed that they can leaven their soft rock with real electric chops — Goldsmith let loose an impressive solo on “Time Spent in Los Angeles.” The show had energy to spare, as the group put a little extra crackle on numbers like “When the Tequila Runs Out” and “Waiting For Your Call.” 

The group has developed a reputation for playing long shows. After almost two hours onstage, Goldsmith asked The Jefferson audience if everyone was “ready for a long night.” Dawes are now in their thirties, getting married and touring in support of their sixth studio album. But seeing them perform, it’s easy to believe Goldsmith — they’ve still got plenty of songs to play before they call it a night.

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