Hallelujah, there’s a killer new live music venue in my home town!! The Crescent Ballroom, open for just a week now, is a mid-sized room (able to accommodate 400-500 people) in a cool 1917 brick building located at 2nd Ave. and Van Buren in downtown Phoenix. Great atmosphere, friendly staff, really good food in their patio lounge/restaurant, Cocina 10 (I recommend the bean & cheese burrito paired with a Moscow Mule – tasty).
Last night, the Blitzen Trapper / Dawes traveling roadshow hit the Ballroom for a few solid hours of rock n’ folk. The tour is just getting started, having kicked off just a few days ago in Petaluma, CA.
After a very mellow but pleasing opening set by British guitar/vocal duo Smoke Fairies (Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies), Dawes hit the stage, and, as expected, immediately won over the Phoenix crowd. Hard to tell, but it seemed like most of the crowd were new to the L.A. band, and it wasn’t long before the passion and earnestness of the four – especially frontman Taylor Goldsmith, won them over. Taylor is as genuine as they come, and a brilliant, evocative songwriter. In every song he sings, he makes sure the listener hears every word, pouring every ounce of his heart and soul into it. His brother Griffin (on drums) shares that passion and enthusiasm – his facial expressions alone are something to behold: his mouth in varied contortions of agony and ecstasy with every beat and fill. Bassist Wylie Gelber and keyboard/organ man Tay Strathairn round out the quartet, and it’s clear why they’ve been selected over the last year to back up the likes of Robbie Robertson, Jackson Browne and M. Ward. Such a cohesive, organic, and talented band.
The 10-song set drew from both of their studio albums – North Hills and Nothing Is Wrong. There were some great moments – the build up and crescendos of “Fire Away”, Taylor’s fiery guitar solo on “Peace in the Valley” – but the emotional peak came with the 1-2 punch of “A Little Bit of Everything” and “When My Time Comes.” I appreciate and enjoy “A Little Bit of Everything” more and more with each listen, and Taylor’s detailed, story-telling delivery gave me goosebumps throughout the tune. Then, of course, the anthemic “When My Time Comes” whipped the crowd up, and they were primed to belt out the chorus when Taylor turned the microphone around toward the end.
Since discovering Dawes in mid 2010, I’ve had the chance to see them four times now, and they just keep getting better and better. Last night’s set was another thrill as a fan.
Since finding out about the co-headlining tour with Blitzen Trapper, I’ve dug into the Portland indie-folk band’s catalog, and the music has definitely been growing on me. Now, after watching them live, I can call myself a fan. I love the dynamic of these guys. It’s a hard-to-peg grab bag of influences… I hear Grateful Dead, Zeppelin, 70’s folk, 70’s rock, Dylan… but all unique and original in their own right. Lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist Eric Early has an unassuming, shy demeanor between songs, but man, can that guy sing and shred.
Speaking of shredding, I got off on watching lead guitarist Erik Menteer tear it up on his Les Paul. The rest of the band chipped in on some great harmonies, but Erik was off to the side just killing on guitar (and occasionally keys).
Marty Marquis, off to stage left on guitar & keys, is the laid back jokester of the band, offering up most of the between song banter (thankful for the nice weather, unlike their last visit to Phoenix, when they “melted”).
I’ve been listening a lot to their new record American Goldwing, and they drew heavily from it, with tunes like “Fletcher,” “Astronaut,” “Your Crying Eyes,” and one of my faves, “Love the Way You Walk Away.” And then there was the sheer Zeppelinesque force of “Street Fighting Sun,” also from the new album. Loud, thrashing, arena rock size rock n roll absolutely filling the small Crescent Ballroom.
The encore was a triple treat too: Eric Early solo acoustic on “The Man Who Would Speak True” followed by an unrecorded song called “Jericho” (full band), and then, to add an exclamation mark to the evening, the finale – Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.”
Blitzen Trapper. Count me in.
As I mentioned, the tour is just getting started. Some of my buddies back east are checking out the show soon. Even if you’re not familiar with either band, one live experience will convert you – guaranteed.