As the full moon rose over the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Masonic Lodge on Friday, September 16, 2016, I eagerly waited in line with a few friends to see Dawes celebrating the album release of We’re All Gonna Die. The show had sold out on the day the tickets went on sale. I thought I was going to miss out on this one, but I managed to score a ticket the week of the show. There were quite a few people attending the show who were on the V.I.P. list and I must admit feeling a little like I was crashing a private party while there. The concert itself had a strange sort of vibe, with dedicated fans mixed in with the band members’ families, friends, a few celebrities, and hipsters at every turn.
There wasn’t an opening act for this concert. Dawes took to the stage to play through the new album, not quite in order, with one song from each of their previous albums mixed into the set. Despite being in a small space, it lacked the feeling of intimacy of the Hotel Cafe show I’d seen only a month earlier. While still playing to a high standard, there was little banter from front man Taylor Goldsmith and he seemed to be driving the band to get through the songs in a timely manner, apart from when he was having difficulty figuring out which cords to stick into his rotation of guitars. Drummer Griffin Goldsmith was on point per usual and aggressively attacking the kit, perhaps to put paid to rumors that the drums weren’t live on the new album. Bassist Wylie Gelber looked relaxed, but kept things steady throughout the night. Sometimes the bass seemed loud in the mix, so for me it was a good chance to hear how the bass line underscored the songs. It was nice to see flashes of energy from keyboardist Lee Pardini, who appeared to be enjoying every moment. I was a little sad to see Duane Betts gone from the live line up, as I thoroughly enjoyed his performances in past shows, but guitarist Trevor Menear seems to be a better fit for the shift in music style that came with this album.
Since I’ve had almost a month to listen to We’re All Gonna Die, I’d thought I’d also share some of my thoughts about each new song. There have been varying opinions on the latest album, which is a departure from the guitar driven, Laurel Canyon musicians-style sound the group has been known for. One can speculate on the divergence from this path the band has steadily tread over their first four albums. There’s always going to be some change in style when bringing in a new band member (this is their first album with Lee Pardini). There are seven songs that include writing credits to the album’s producer Blake Mills (who I think is fantastic, by the way). Blake has worked with Alabama Shakes and Dawes just toured with them — a few of the new songs feel like they’ve borrowed from the Shakes’s playbook (or maybe that was Blake’s playbook). Some of the songs have a more mainstream pop rock take than you might expect from Dawes and others play around with timbre and syncopated percussion, but for all the hubbub in the music press and comments on social network sites, honestly, it isn’t that drastic of a changed in style (it’s not thrash metal or gangster rap)! Set was as follows:
- “One of Us” I like this song and feel that it was a fitting choice to open the show and the album with. From the first fuzzed up, loud, bouncing notes in the intro to the fuzziness on Taylor’s vocals, this song announces that things are going to be done a bit differently on this album. This music clearly belongs in the Twenty-Teens and not the 1970s. Its careful arrangement holds that feeling of at least coming from the Dawes that released All Your Favorite Bands, even as it pulls away from noodle-y, lengthy guitar solos that are peppered through their previous albums.
- “We’re All Gonna Die” Taylor addressed the audience prior to beginning this song, “It’s nice to see you all here in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where we release our new record.” Quite an aptly chosen venue given the title of the album. The beginning lyrics of this song might explain the straightforward, well-worn performances that were given that evening. Are the band members perhaps a little travel weary? Maybe it was the venue? Does it feel more solemn playing a show in a building inside the gates of a cemetery? Consider the first 16 lines of this song that acknowledges the search for the inspiration and enthusiasm of younger days to apply to one’s current state of mind. The songs lament of “we’re all gonna die” hits on the fleetingness of life and suggests that a good deal of the things we worry about really don’t matter in the end. So this band has tweaked their sound — doesn’t matter — we’re all gonna die!
- “Roll With the Punches” This one feels like a Dawes song, with Taylor’s typical, narrative lyrics and a beginning with a simple musical accompaniment on the verse before launching into a fuller instrumentation during the first chorus. Specifically, it harks back to the third track on their last album, “Don’t Send Me Away.” The lyrics could perhaps describe the next chapter of the story begun in the earlier song.
- “If I Wanted Someone” from Nothing Is Wrong. Prior to this song, Taylor noted, “Only one short year ago we were in this very room putting out another record.” Was this album pushed forward to follow up on the success of the last record and tour, i.e., strike while the iron is hot?
- “Picture Of a Man” Mandy Moore joined the band on stage for background vocals, though I couldn’t really hear her in the mix. Mike G. added additional percussion. This is the one song on the album I haven’t been able to get into at all. It doesn’t do anything for me.
- “Roll Tide” Griff sings the lead vocal on this one. It is one of my favorites on the album, but I’m a sucker for a good ballad, I dig the bass line, and I like the string arrangement on the album.
- “When My Time Comes” from North Hills, the audience was into the spirit of this song at the concert. Clearly a fan favorite.
- “Less Than Five Miles Away” The bass was dominant on this song at the live show. Another song that demonstrates the cleverness of Taylor’s lyric writing, encouraging the listener to consider the many different ongoing stories in the lives of thousands of people that are within a short distance of your location. A mellow, rhythmic, and seemingly unstoppable accompaniment, rolls along below the melody lines, as if you are bumping along catching snippets of stories as you drive along the streets of the city. I’ve chosen the line, “This is all happening right now” for the blog title, because this post outlines just one more story that can happen in the city.
- “Most People” from Stories Don’t End. Taylor followed this song by announcing, “Our record’s for sale, so if you’re liking any of these songs, it came out today.”
- “For No Good Reason” Check out the link to this song, which is of just Taylor singing it and playing it on guitar. This is one tune for me that is most beautiful when stripped down to its essence. The flow of the lyrics and the story they tell feel overwhelmed by the musical arrangement and faster tempo on the album version, like it is trying too hard to be something that it is not. I think this is a prime example regarding some people’s displeasure with the album. The lyrics name check nearby Culver City, which got a cheer when it was mentioned, though the line there is a downer, “An actor was found dead today in his Culver City home; and with no evidence of foul play, it seemed he’d acted on his own.” After the song finished, Taylor remarked on it, “I appreciate your relationship with where your from…doesn’t matter if someone died!”
- “Quitter” I just love this funky song. For me, this piece marks where they have best used the new music style to their advantage. It has one great line in the refrain too, “You’re gonna have to quit everything, until you find one thing you won’t.” I don’t care a jot if this “doesn’t sound like Dawes,” it sounds awesome.
- “All Your Favorite Bands” from All Your Favorite Bands
- “When the Tequila Runs Out” This was the song they led with when they announced the album and is considered their single. Taylor’s cautionary comment relating to this tune was, “When the tequila runs out, go to bed or something else — don’t drink a bunch of champagne!” I have to admit to being taken by surprise when I first heard this one, before I had heard any of the other new material, but the tune has grown on me with repeated listening. Probably the most commercial sounding and the least of a stretch lyric-wise, intimating the details of a wild party, it is the kind of tune I can imagine becoming a popular party/celebration/cover band kind of song.
“As If By Design” This is such an unusual song which brings to mind the sound of the carefree island music embodied by Jimmy Buffett having been mashed together with an excellent, but down on his luck piano player, performing in a piano lounge where most of the people aren’t listening. It is such a strange gem of a song and here we get to experience Lee’s playing shine. Just make sure you are one of the people who is paying attention.
Following the concert, many attendees gathered in the large adjoining room (one can hardly call it a lobby) to mingle. Staff was in no hurry to kick out the concert-goers and I am always appreciative of being able to take a few minutes to chat with friends at the venue when the show is over. Eventually all of the band members were out in the crowd to find their own friends and family to greet.