Dawes awes Taft Ballroom crowd

Jun 7, 2012

Five songs into Wednesday night’s Dawes show, Taylor Goldsmith asked how many in the crowd of about 300 had seen the band before. Maybe a third or so whooped and hollered in response.

“This is for the first-timers,” the band’s frontman said before the Los Angeles  foursome tore into an incendiary version of “When My Time Comes” from its first album, “North Hills,” at the Taft Theatre Ballroom.

The time had come to dial up the intensity. 

Dawes’ diehards knew something that many folks in the room didn’t: the band was onto something before last year’s “Nothing Is Wrong” put them on the national radar. The group played shows with Jackson Browne; Goldsmith writes literate lyrics and the album is filled with midtempo tunes; hence, the comparisons to 1970s’ Southern California country rock royalty.

The reality – in person at least – is much more exciting. As nice as songs such as “If I Wanted Someone,” “Fire Away,” and “A Little Bit of Everything” are on record, they were transformed into full-on rockers in the sweaty basement space. And that’s a compliment to the band and the venue; the crowd was close enough to the players to feed off of their energy, and vice versa.

By the time Goldsmith played the opening chords of the group’s best known song, “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” to close the set, each member had a chance to shine in a solo spotlight. Keyboard player Tay Strathairn dazzled on both piano and organ, while bassist Wylie Gelber wasn’t content to just keep the beat as his bottom lines were prominent for much of the night. But it was the other Goldsmith, drummer Griffin, who stood out with his animated playing style and strong harmony vocals with his big brother. 

After 14 songs, the ovation from the audience made it clear the band hadn’t spent enough time in Cincinnati. 

The quartet returned to the stage, joined by openers Sara and Sean Watkins, for a soulful version of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” that featured the two sets of siblings harmonizing on the familiar refrains. 

Before the show, odds were good that Sara Watkins was the biggest name on the bill. The fiddle player of Nickel Creek fame recently released her second solo album, “Sun Midnight Sun,” and had played high-profile gigs with the Decemberists and the “Prairie Home Companion” tour over the past year. 

The sister and brother did nothing to disappoint as they played an hour’s worth of songs culled from Sara’s two solo albums, with an original by Sean tossed in. And the Goldsmiths even foreshadowed what was to come when they helped out with Dan Wilson’s “When it Pleases You” from “Sun Midnight Sun” to close the Watkins' set.

But that’s what family members do, right? They help make each other better as all four did Wednesday night.

Email Bill Thompson