Live Review: Dawes and Cory Chisel win over Madison crowd

Tom Pilcher

In the chorus to one of the many standout tracks from the young California quartet Dawes’ debut album “North Hills,” the band creates a yearning, driving harmony around the line “when my time comes.”
Though the song is not about wanting fame, seeing the enthusiastic young college crowd at UW-Madison last Saturday yell the lyrics back to the band as the three singers stepped aside for the last chorus, all I could think was “their time has come.”
The Madison crowd’s passion shows how far the group has come in such a short period of time. Hailing from the fertile Los Angeles music scene, Dawes released their first album on ATO Records last year and garnered much attention from various music blogs around the country before scoring a feature piece in Rolling Stone’s “Breaking Artists” section for bands to watch.
It is easy to see why so many people like the band too: on “North Hills,” the quartet plays their brand of west coast Americana/rock/soul tastefully and dynamically, but one gets the sense that the rustic, laid-back songs could become something else when performed live, and they do.
One of the great things about writing simpler songs is the opportunity to embellish them in performance, much like certain jazz standards.
The brothers Taylor Goldsmith – guitar and lead vocals – and Griffin Goldsmith – drums and vocals – took this idea to heart, adding all kinds of fills and new dynamic contrasts that brought a new life to the songs live.
In addition, a friend of the band who plays tenor sax joined them on some of the louder cuts from “North Hills,” adding some tasteful E Street Band style parts to the songs.
The rest of the band was incredibly tight as well, which is always a concern when seeing a young band hyped on music blogs. Bassist Wylie Gelber was particularly impressive, as his fluid, simple but effective parts provided a great contrast to Goldsmith’s mid-range voice and keyboard player Alex Casnoff’s organ parts.
Others have noticed their live abilities as well: opener Jason Boesel – drummer for Bright Eyes and other Conor Oberst projects – used the quartet as his backing band, leading them through a collection of country-tinged rock songs from his debut album “Hustler’s Son.”
Another highlight from the set came when drummer Griffin Goldsmith took over lead vocal duties on a new song, evoking images of Levon Helm, the drummer and sometimes lead singer for The Band.
In addition to channeling The Band’s roots rock sound, Dawes paid tribute to the late Warren Zevon, covering his hit “Lawyers, Guns and Money” during their encore.
It is difficult not to dwell on Dawes because of their masterful headlining set, but Appleton’s own Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons played an equally sophisticated set.
Chisel’s sound is similar to Dawes in some ways, but definitely grittier and a little darker in some respects, since many of his lyrics deal with death and questions of personal faith.
Supported by a stellar backing band that included Dax Nielson – son of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielson – on drums and three other members on electric guitar, bass and keyboards, Chisel’s set featured faithful renditions of the songs from his 2009 release “Death Won’t Send a Letter.”
Chisel’s record was produced by Joe Chiccarelli, who also produced albums of The Shins and The White Stripes, and features songwriting and playing from Brendan Benson, Patrick Keeler, and Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs.
Chisel is clearly making a name for himself with his gritty blend of rock and classic country sounds, and his confident live performance showed why a Grammy-winning producer and members of The Raconteurs wanted to help him with his most recent release.
Perhaps the only downside to the show was that some of the quieter numbers were almost drowned out by the din of the college crowd who were more unfamiliar with his work.
As a whole, the UW-Madison concert surpassed my expectations, especially the masterful set from Dawes. Look for Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons and Dawes, because these two young groups both seem to be on the verge of great success.