Dawes at Great Scott

Dawes at Great Scott

I can’t think of a nicer way to reward oneself for making it this far through a cold and nasty winter than heartfelt heartland Americana and a warm blast of California sunshine. What an inspired triple bill – Jason Boesel (part of a recent Laurel Canyon musical resurgence along with his friends from Dawes), plus Corey Chisel & the Wandering Sons, who hail from Appleton, Wisconsin, but share their love for upfront, honest and unpretentious lyrics, warm and sincere harmonies and soulful alt-country melodies. A beautiful evening of music that felt like a big, warm hug.

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Rather than trying to impress with bombastic enthusiasm that often feels forced, all three bands presented their music honestly in finely crafted performances that mixed fast and driving folky rock with slow, heart-tugging and heartwarming ballads. Deeply satisfying and very effective, each song was distinctive in contrast with others of varying shades and textures. This was a “dream show” for me – the sound was wonderful; the vocals right up front where they belong. Excellent.

Jason Boesel (w/Dawes)

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My first impression upon listening to Jason Boesel’s debut solo album Hustler’s Son was that the guy has a nice voice and a gentle laid-back alt-country vibe going (with a decent enough backing band), but it wasn’t the sort of electrifying performance that would make me take special notice. I had a completely different feeling this night, with the guys from Dawes providing the musical accompaniment for Jason’s very personal storytelling. Lyrically, he has an appealing, simple and honest style. Coming at his performance with complete objectivity – I know he’s best known for his drumming in Rilo Kiley, The Elected, and Conor Oberst’s Bright Eyes and Mystic Valley Band, but am not so familiar with any of them – I enjoyed his laid-back vibe and liked that he mixed it up a bit with one or two funkier, more rocking tracks which made a nice contrast to the mostly gentle sound of his debut. And Dawes definitely raised the mood. You can tell these guys hang out together; their musical and personal comraderie are apparent in the way they play off and propel each other on stage. Very nice.

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Jason performed songs off his debut, including “French Kissing” and “Hustler’s Son” (after relating a strange story of a recent radio appearance which they followed up with a metal band, he then described his next song as “not metal at all”). He then said “this is the closest I get to metal”, and launched into a great jamming rocker with Dawes cooking things up into a fine, funky boil. Lovely guitar lines from Taylor Goldsmith in this set, a tasty aperitif for what was to come later in the evening.

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Corey Chisel & the Wandering Sons

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Next up was Corey Chisel & The Wandering Sons. It makes sense that singer/songwriter and guitarist Corey Chisel’s father was a Baptist minister, as their music has a strong spiritual feeling winding through it, with themes of loss and wistful longing, regret and the search for redemption. They opened with the passionately sung love song “Angel of Mine” and another love song – this one with a touch of defiance and hope – “What Do You Need” – from last year’s Death Won’t Send A Letter (Black Seal).

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They’re just beautiful musically – a warm and lush folksy-Americana sound that perfectly compliments but never overshadows the heartfelt, somewhat melancholy (in oh, the best of ways) vocals. After those first two, which the audience immediately warmed to, Corey announced “we have some slow ones too we’re gonna try out” [YES!! It’s ok to play sweet pretty ballads at rock shows! Hallelujah! Never mind the people at the bar talking; just ignore ’em.] This led into the lovely and wistful “So Wrong For Me”, with keyboardist Adrial Harris making a vocal appearance with stunningly sweet harmonies. She has an angelic voice which perfectly slips itself around Corey’s gritty world-weariness. Just beautiful. Other quiet duets that stood out like perfect glistening jewels were “Tennessee” and – with just lone guitar accompaniment – “In The Deep End”. This song has never been recorded, but you can see a nice performance of it during a Luxury Wafers Session (“I get the feeling I’m different somehow this time of year…”).

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They performed most of the songs from their full-length album, two selections from their 2008 live EP Cabin Ghosts and the previously mentioned exquisite “In The Deep End”. “Sing your sweet song, spare me your sympathy…” (from “My Heart Would Be There”) followed, and then Corey’s introduction to “Calm Down” – “No chorus to dance to.. like Leonard Cohen.. gets the girls going” (or at least, that’s what I heard – pretty funny). “We’ve no time to teach you, oh world we beseech you, be well. With no time to teach you, no songs that’ll reach you, calm down.” And the song “about baptism by fire”, “Born Again”, which ends with the shiver-inducing line “Mama didn’t raise me to be no victim.”

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In a solid blast of energy, they ended their stellar set with an exuberant “Longer Time At Sea”, winning over a sea of new fans.

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[You can listen to their music streaming on Cory’s official site.]

Dawes

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Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, Wylie Gelber, and Alex Casnoff returned to the stage to rapturous applause, to bring us some down-to-earth warm California sunshine. Theirs is feel-good music, not in a surfer-boy sense, but something deeper and long-lasting, borne of trials, struggles and epic self-battles, yet rising from the ashes like the mythical phoenix with hopeful optimism.

The introspective and thoughtful “When You Call My Name” leads off (“So if you want to get to know me, follow my smile down into its curves, all these lines are born in sorrows and pleasures, and every man ends up with the face that he deserves.”). The flowing and gentle “Give Me Time” highlights their glorious, deeply touching vocal harmonies. “Bedside Manner” is one of my favorites. Slow with a stark honesty in the verses, building into a heart-expanding one-word chorus “Mama”… lovely. “There’s sometime as a much older man, I will sit down and put on this song, it just might make me cry, or at the very least a tear in my eye.”

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They performed all but one song from North Hills, including “Love Is All I Am”, which has to be one of the prettiest love songs ever written (and where they seriously get their Crosby, Stills & Nash on). “Love is not convenience, it does not cease at your command, you might take and leave it, but love is all I am.” You could feel emotions building with each moment, many of the songs turning into impromptu audience sing-a-longs. Griffin did a vocal turn on “God Rest My Soul”, and they performed “If You Let Me Be Your Anchor”, a song of love to a wandering spirit. There’s some wistful sadness to be sure, along with a certain calm acceptance, but in the end it’s ok, and one is left feeling comforted and hopeful.

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In the middle of “My Girl To Me”, Taylor, overcome with emotion at the overwhelming response, gets lost in the moment and promptly forgets the lyrics. No one noticed anything wrong at first; the band smoothly dropped it down a notch and it seemed like just a nice instrumental interlude. Taylor: “We’ve brought it down ’cause I don’t know the next lyric”, which elicited much laughter. “I’m not lying!” A girl in the audience helped him out (I think the line might have been “she’s good with quick goodbyes”), and they swept right back into it as if the moment had been planned all along. A class act.

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We were treated to two new songs, one which was introduced as being “about where we come from, Los Angeles”, which was greeted by huge cheers. Very heartwarming for me, as I have kind of “a thing” for a lot of the current L.A. bands. Not that Boston doesn’t have its share of cool acts and a vibrant music scene, but there’s just something… Anyway, it has the lines “wish that someone would love me for the places I’ve been” and (perhaps) something like “a special kind of tragic sadness… I’ll hold you in my arms”, which succeeded in getting me a little teary. Hopefully this will turn up on their next album.

“Western Skyline” followed, which speaks of a soul torn between California homesickness and a Southern girl, and they brought their soaring set to a close with a wall-bursting crowd ‘shout-a-long’ of “When My Time Comes”. On that rare occasion, a concert performance will exceed the sum of its parts and reach a higher plane… that communal spirit, a band fully at one with their audience, with no separation and just a joyous celebration united by the music. Unbelievable.

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A fantastic cover of “Lawyers, Guns and Money” by “the genius Warren Zevon” started off an amazing three-song encore with a backing chorus a few hundred voices strong. Another very personal song about their home, the lovely “Peace In The Valley” (with some very beautiful guitar playing), and then their friend Scotty came up to play sax on their final song of the evening, the one-line audience singalong, “It’s Gonna Be Alright”. With an evening like that, who am I to disagree?

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