Dawes hails from Southern California, and vocalist/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith is just barely old enough to buy alcohol. But the quartet's 45-minute set opening for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros revealed a band that's old before its time. Its slowly unfolding vignettes were rich with detail about places, time, movement and, of course, love - and how these elements intersect and affect one another. More often than not, Dawes sounded like the house band that would be playing as you were drowning your sorrows in a bar.
The set was far from a downer, though. Dawes included selections from its 2009 album, North Hills, and a few new songs, all of which relied on timeless signifiers: flashes of Southern rock, curled twang and folk's gentle strums. The mournful country-soul slow-burner "That Western Skyline" sounded like My Morning Jacket sans reverb; Goldsmith's voice was the sonic equivalent of sandpaper smoothing over rough wood. The newer songs performed (including one called "Fire Away," which Goldsmith says is about supporting a friend even if you don't approve of what they're doing) were much poppier and structured, thanks in part to catchy choruses.
Still, Dawes' three-part harmonies were as effortless as breathing; "When My Time Comes" especially stood out for its grace and solemnity. At times, this emotional bloodletting was overwhelming, if not a tad boring. But the band wasn't afraid to be unpolished: Thumping drums and sparse guitar marked set-closer "Peace in the Valley" - a song mostly full of ghostly, spare atmosphere. As the song neared its end, however, Goldsmith coaxed squalls of noise from his guitar, made some fierce "guitar faces" and contorted his body with stiff movements; in other words, he mimicked Neil Young. This guitar-god homage was fitting, and injected a much-welcome shot of noise and dirt into Dawes' show.
Critic's Notebook: The elegant language in Dawes' lyrics recalled David Bazan's solo work.
By the Way: Dawes had a T-shirt that said "DAWESOME" on the front of it. Excellent.