Dawes is evolving. Or has already. Either way, the Los Angeles band has shed at least some of their folky pop gestalt for patient ruminations on the usual suspects—loss and love and mortality—with their fifth studio album, We're All Gonna Die. This time out, the boys have crafted songs a little more layered (if not more grown-up) than previous outings; Die is, in fact, more Dire Straits or Hall & Oates than it is Jackson Browne, but we're talking more soulful, too, or perhaps a little more rock 'n' roll and sexy.
Of course, previous elements that put the band on the map, such as melodic style, killer vocal harmonies or heartfelt lyricism (think All Your Favorite Bands-era Dawes) remain intact as well, and the aforementioned evolution seems far more organic happenstance than a band that set out to purposefully rebrand itself in a misguided attempt at chasing success (or trends).
"It's kind of just what happened," drummer Griffin Goldsmith says. "I think the songs Taylor [Goldsmith, Griffin's brother and Dawes' front man/main songwriter] is writing are obviously very different than the previous batch."
This generally takes the form of autobiographical pieces from Taylor—like "Roll With the Punches," wherein he tells us: "The separation was logistical/Deciding what belongs to whom/How dying love manifests in a rug or a chest"—but also contains some pretty solid advice about living, like on "Quitter" where we are advised: "Quit talking to God if your prayers don't get answered/Or if you don't exactly notice when they do."
Regardless, the overall message seems timeless and worthwhile, yet it bears repeating: Live while you can. This is what we mean when we say "grown-up." After all, if we're all gonna die, why do we spend so much time focused on not living? That's from Shawshank Redemption … basically.
"I think that's sort of the sentiment that comes across," Griffin explains, "but what I really like about it is that it's a polarizing title—some people think it's a sad thing, or some people think it's hilarious. I think, for me, it speaks to the place of the record or this band or the industry, pop music. … Obviously we're not pop music, but I mean in the grand scheme of things."
For Dawes' upcoming Santa Fe appearance at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, they'll play without an opener, the first such tour in their career. This may sound daunting for a band, but with five albums under their belt and tour after tour in the rearview mirror, it's more of a chance for them to spread out, provide a bit of a retrospective feel for longtime fans but also to really dig into the newer material.
"We can finally play for two-plus hours, which I know is a lot of music to ask the listener to be there for," Griffin says. "But it's really invigorating to go out there and play for hours and really stretch out with the songs. The emphasis is on listening."
If nothing else, Dawes has a proven knack for staying power and a willingness to experiment and continually challenge themselves and their listeners. Even if you think you know this band, their newer stuff is a departure of sorts; yes, you'll recognize Taylor's croon and the spirit stays the same, but rather than stay satisfied with mid-level success and the repackaging of the same old, same old, they've transformed into something new enough and bright enough as to be engaging, yet deep enough and bittersweet enough as to seem like whatever song they're playing may just be about us and our own bullshit. And that ain't easy.
"Nobody comes to the table with a fully realized song, and I think that's why we've been able to be on tour and make five different records," Griffin adds. "It wasn't like we set out to do whatever; the process is a real collaboration."
7:30 pm Wednesday March 22. $24-$34.
Lensic Performing Arts Center,
211 W San Francisco St.,
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