On Tuesday afternoon, Dawes tweeted, “We’re in Asheville today in The Orange Peel. One of our favorite venues in one of our favorite cities.” Which could just be a thing that bands say. (Not too long ago I heard a musician give a shout out to North Carolina, the entire state, from the stage. And then he went on to say that N.C. is one of his favorite states. In the Southeast.) But a few songs into Dawes’ set at the Orange Peel, front man Taylor Goldsmith said, “We’ve been looking forward to getting back here since the day we left.”
In fact, Dawes was just in Asheville at the end of April, opening for Bob Dylan. Two months is a quick turnaround, especially considering the group is based in L.A. Then again, in 2012 they were honorary locals while recording recently-released Stories Don’t End at Echo Mountain.
One guy in the near sold-out Orange Peel show noted that Dawes had not played “From a Window Seat” (their single from the new album) at the Dylan concert. That was their opening song at this week’s show, followed quickly by “If I Wanted Someone,” the band’s biggest radio hit from 2011’s Nothing Is Wrong. While both songs were well rehearsed and flawlessly performed, they felt a bit rushed, as if the band wanted to get them out of the way and move on the the rest of their catalog.
With “Most People” (off Stories), Dawes seemed to find its groove. There was still the rehearsed slickness, but that professionalism makes for tight stops and starts, the entire quartet moving in unison to support the building drama of the song. With that song, too, the band began to extend its instrumental jams, at first just flirting with solos and later in the set taking the jams into lengthy new territory. “Peace in the Valley,” which started slow, eventually opened to the energy of the drum kit (played by Griffin Goldsmith, Taylor’s brother) before allowing each musician an expansive solo. Of these, the most interesting with the moody keys part by Tay Strathairn whose jam (though not at all jam band sort of jam) would have stood on its own as an instrumental song.
Slower offerings (“Fire Away” and “Moon in the Water”) allowed the band to showcase its proficiencies, such as Strathairn’s supple prowess with the Hammond organ and Taylor’s songwriting. “Moon in the Water” is an especially sweet song with lyrics like, “love is for the fighter born to lose but never quit, swinging for the moon in the water.” But as lovely as Dawes’ slow songs can be, they brought the energy down in the room, especially following on the heels of hard-rocking roots duo Shovels & Rope.
That husband-and-wife (Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent) two-piece, from Charleston, S.C., was partly (probably largely) responsible for packing the room for their opening set and they prove that a duo can rock as hard as a full band. One of the most charming moment was when someone in the audience started yelling for Shovels & Rope to get off the stage so Dawes could start, and Hearst told him, with no trace of irony, “Now that’s just completely unnecessary.”
Hard to say if Shovels & Rope’s audience is the same as Dawes’. There’s certainly some cross-over, but in the wake of the Charleston duo’s verve and grit, Dawes’ polish and unhurried offerings felt not necessarily less admirable but certainly less exhilarating.
Which is not to say Dawes’ set was without its shining moments. At the line, “with your Carolina heart,” (in “If You Let Me Be Your Anchor”), the crowd went crazy. Bassist Wylie Gelber provided a solid low end balanced by his lightness of technique. He has a way of hitting a note and immediately backing away. And, on “From the Right Angle,” Taylor deftly emphasized the song’s apex: “I need a cold beer from a dressing room, I need a string of dates back out. I think there are a few of us that still belong out on the road.” That verse felt like Dawes’ own anthem; a good sign for the band’s fans.