Listen to Austin 360 Radio

ACL Fest review: Dawes

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Chad Swiatecki

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 8, 2013

Unsolicited advice for Austin City Limits Festival honchos: round up every pixel of video you can find of Dawes performing “When My Time Comes” on Sunday afternoon and make it a component of every piece of marketing video you ever prepare for the festival going forward, because this festival doesn’t get much better than that.

What a moment it was, on a sunny cloudless afternoon to hear the band’s two- and three-part harmonies led by guitarist/vocalist Taylor Goldsmith atop a shuffling folk-rock rhythm. Like an audio postcard, if such a thing existed.

In many ways Dawes, a Los Angeles roots rock quartet whose thickest musical roots stretch all the way back to The Band (in terms of influence), is as prototypical an ACL Fest band as you’ll ever find. Based in Americana but not afraid to stretch out into slightly jammy soloing and instrumental interplay live, its songs seem to unfold and expand in front of a festival audience.

Consider “Peace In The Valley,” which began with Goldsmith singing with just a spare guitar and bass drum accompaniment as he unspooled a somber life-has-no-winners tale. By the time his bandmates finally kicked in halfway through and Goldsmith got to dig into a slow, meditative guitar solo, you practically had a checklist of what needs to happen for a band to get almost unanimous approval from this festival’s customers.

If there’s a nit to pick with this band, it’s the small concern that lyrics from its last two records have a tendency to feel like batches of wisdom and sayings gathered from bumper stickers or refrigerator magnet poetry. Lots of great turns of phrase buttressed by more than capable musicians, but those songs don’t frequently succeed at telling a memorable story or taking the listener on a journey.

That gripe is lessened live - though it’s still there – since at a festival the setting and surroundings mix in and can fill in some of those gaps. And when Dawes hit on all its cylinders on what most are calling the best weather day in ACL Fest history, there wasn’t a better band to be in front of.