Folk-pop band Dawes does double duty on tour with Conor Oberst

Contributing Music WriterJune 5, 2014 

The L.A.-based folk-rock band Dawes is made up of good friends Taylor Goldsmith, left, Tay Strathairn, Griffin Goldsmith and Wylie Gelber.

NOAH ABRAMS

  • IF YOU GO

    Conor Oberst and Dawes

    When: 9 p.m. June 7

    Where: Buster's Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St.

    Tickets: $27 advance, $30 day of show. Available at (859) 368-8871 or Bustersbb.com.

The members of Dawes were suitably thrilled when longtime friend Conor Oberst approached them about embarking on a joint tour.

After all, aside from asserting its own modern take on Los Angeles-bred folk, pop and rock with three critically acclaimed albums, the quartet has had ample experience rubbing musical shoulders with rock titans. They backed Jackson Browne at Occupy Wall Street and recorded and performed with Creedence Clearwater Revival founder John Fogerty

But this tour would be different.

Dawes would open the shows with an hourlong set of its own and then shift gears for what would, in essence, be a second performance as Oberst's band.

"Definitely, it's a long night for us, but we like that," said Dawes bassist Wylie Gelber. "It keeps us nice and tight as a band. As soon as we're done with our set, we're just getting started because we have another 2½ hours to go after that."

Oberst and Dawes will play at Buster's in Lexington on Saturday.

For Nebraska-born songsmith Oberst, 34, the tour represents the latest chapter in a revolving cycle of performance projects that have included the critically acclaimed indie pop collective Bright Eyes, the more punkish Desaparecidos, the all-star Monsters of Folk and the roots-driven Mystic Valley Band. The collaborative tour with Dawes is an outgrowth of his new Americana-rich solo record, Upside Down Mountain.

The current tour's repertoire covers all of those endeavors. That called for the Dawes' members — Gelber, singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith, his sibling drummer Griffin Goldsmith and keyboardist Tay Strathairn — to engage in a considerable amount of woodshedding. In fact, they did more than even Oberst expected.

"We kind of had a misunderstanding at the beginning of prep for the tour," Gelber said. "Conor sent us a list of 45 or 50 songs. What he meant was, 'Choose 15 or 20, learn those and we'll go from there.' Well, before he could reiterate what he wanted, we just learned all of them.

"So when we met up with Conor in Omaha to rehearse, he was like, 'Alright, what 15 do you want to start with?' And we were like, 'Well, we can really do whatever you want because we learned that entire list.' But that just meant we could switch everything up from night to night and go back to play a bunch of stuff from his old records as well as the new one."

The situation differs a bit from when Dawes works on its own. The band's most recent album, Stories Don't End, has a folk-pop feel that is considerably lighter than Oberst's intense, exact and often Dylanesque narratives. Taylor Goldsmith is the band's principal songwriter, but he is by no means its dictating voice.

"Taylor always says, 'I want you guys to play these songs exactly the way you want to. I'm not tied to anything.' So when I listen to his songs and learn them, I don't get real attached to a certain feel. Taylor kind of leaves the feel up to me and Griff and our instincts. But there is this great musicality around his songs. It has become super-comfortable for us to play them now."

Of course, having four L.A. musicians who have bonded personally as well as professionally over the years enhances the inviting pop flair of Dawes' music.

"After going out with Conor, his whole crew was going, 'Wow, you guys are actually friends.' Well, if we weren't friends, I don't think we would be going out on tour nearly as much as we do and wouldn't be enjoying it half as much.

"It kind of goes hand in hand. If we weren't four guys that didn't like spending time with each other and playing music with each other, then we would be doing something else with our lives".

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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