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Dawes wears its influences well at the Music Box

by Kevin Bronson on November 21, 2011

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Welcome to Flannel Fest 2011. Thrift-store plaid, you’re over here in Line 1. Everybody in the long-sleeved Henleys, weathered denim and Urban Outfitters ruffles, you’re there in Line 2. You in your dad’s vintage C.P.O., you’re up front with me. Oh, and are those a few Old Navy flannel hoodies I spot? You must be here to see Blitzen Trapper … back of Line 3, please.

I note that a lot of you showed up early to see the Belle Brigade — very astute of you — but I realize most came to the Music Box tonight, Thursday, Nov. 17, to see Dawes, the Malibu-bred quartet whose folk music sounds as if it were made the 1960s and ’70s except by people who weren’t born yet in the 1960s and ’70s. It’s doubtful you will be disappointed, even if frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s voice, worn from six weeks on tour, sounds like he’s been shouting at the referees at a football game.

It’s no accident that Jackson Browne (who was really big in the ’70s, take my word for it) adopted Dawes as his backing band earlier this year. The similarities are sometimes eerie. The yearning, the meditative lyrics, the harmonies, the memorable choruses — you could sandwich a Dawes single in between oldies by Browne, Crosby Stills & Nash, Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers and it would not be out of place. Dawes’ sophomore album “Nothing Is Wrong” has some special moments, and you get to witness them live, even if you saw them in September at the Santa Monica Pier, or in June at the Orpheum, or in February at Royce Hall, as I suspect many of you did. (Many of you might have even seen Goldsmith as part of the side project Middle Brother, but no points deducted.)

Even sandpapery, Goldsmith’s voice will prevail, along with his ability keep the rock in folk-rock thanks to his electric electric guitar excursions. Such a tight unit, with Taylor and his big-haired brother Griffin on drums, and Wylie Gelber and Tay Strathairn. “When You Call My Name” is still as fresh as the first time I heard it on the album “North Hills.” “How Far We’ve Come” takes on a new meaning to anybody who witnessed Dawes at their Echo residency in 2009. Everybody In The Damned Music Box will sing along to “When My Times Comes.” Guaranteed.

And are you up for a few nice surprises? How about a cover of Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome?” Sweet. Oh, and the inimitable Benmont Tench guesting on keys for “Time Spent in Los Angeles?” Cool. And the most special moment of all — a cover of Big Star’s “The Ballad of El Goodo” (1972) — with drummer Jody Stephens himself, the last surviving member of that seminal band — on the kit.

Many of you will retreat to the rooftop smoking patio for Blitzen Trapper, the six-piece out of Portland whose new album “American Goldwing” has some shining moments (“Might Find It Cheap,” especially) but whose Southern-rock swagger comes with a side order of Sub Pop-critical-darling smugness. You’ll want to give it a chance. But it might kill the night’s earnest vibe when frontman Eric Earley allows as how he was born in Los Angeles before moving away as an infant, that his mother was in the house for the show and that “… this song is for her … I guess.” It’s not an aw-shucks “I guess,” either.

Or maybe you will just sense that Sabbath is trying to be Skynyrd is trying to be the Band, and decide to check the weather.

Still, it won’t wipe that Belle Brigade-inspired smile off your face. The L.A. outfit helmed by siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska have a heart of gold and some songs to match, and the brother-sister harmonies will inspire plenty of sing-alongs, so have your pipes ready. Their set will feel a little bit short at 35 minutes, so you might want to save that trip to the restroom.

Any questions? No? OK, folks, we are about to open doors here at the Music Box. Enjoy your evening, and tip your bartenders.


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