Poster by For Young Modern (a site doing some gorgeous graphic design along with show reviews)
November 11th, 2011, (also known as the luckiest day of the millennium for those of you who believe in making wishes) was a very busy night for Seattle music venues. Wild Flag played Neumos alongside Drew Grow and the Pastor’s Wives, Minus the Bear were at the Showbox, Frank Fairfield at the Columbia City Theater, Fly Moon Royalty at the High Dive, Ghosts I’ve Met at the Sunset and I’m not even including some of the great house shows that took place on that Friday night. With all these bands/acts competing for warm bodies to observe their stage show, it was quite impressive for Dawes/Blitzen Trapper to sellout the Neptune Theater date of their co-headlining tour.
I entered the Neptune to what sounded like a hornet’s nest of chatter (more on that later). From what I could gather initially some of the water cooler discussions were about the opening act, The Belle Brigade but the rest of the dialogue was none of your business (none of mine either).
Not having experienced enough of The Belle Brigade to offer an educated opinion, I decided to focus my analytical efforts on the first of the co-headliners of the evening. Dawes, the quartet from Northern Hills, CA. didn’t seem to be the band that most concert-goers were there to see. I did see a handful of audience members fully engaged in the music, but for the most part this was not an obvious, nor an overwhelming phenomena. If I closed my eyes I could have swore I was in a bigger version of the Tractor, only the band performing was playing too loudly to get Tiny Viper’d. Generally speaking, audience participation was as follows:
Person X: [Charlie Brown school teacher voice-over] Person Y: [Responds to Person X in similar fashion] Person X: [Eventually noticing there is music playing] Who is this? Person Y: It’s Dawes, I’m pretty sure… Person X: I like this.
[Person X and Person Y revert back to their socially mechanical ways]
Besides the beautiful image of one grown man gleefully clapping along to Dawes while sitting on another grown man’s shoulders, the above conversation was pretty much par for the course. I must note that there was an abundance of cheers elicited during the opening riff of The History Channel’s favorite song “When My Time Comes” and Dawes did perform their single quite well on this evening. As the song gracefully filled every crevice of the Neptune Theater, I looked around and wondered how many audience members religiously watched American Pickers and Pawn Stars like I have been known to do.
Overall I thought Dawes sounded good (as I expect most artists that will play the Neptune Theater) but there was no reason to watch them perform. If I had to describe their sound via a good game of barroom darts, your target area would be somewhere between a sincere version of Dewey Cox fronting The Band (for the record, I liked Walk Hard) and a less enthusiastic version of Train. If that sounds like something you might be into, chances are that VH1 facilitated your introduction to this California band. Not that there’s anything with that…(If you’re disappointed that you missed Dawes, just click the link and watch the video. It was basically like that.)
I was thankful when Blitzen Trapper took to the stage because that meant there was finally going to a musical presence with an engaging personality. If the curtains came down on Dawes while they were playing, I’m not sure anyone would have noticed. There was nothing visually appealing about their set (this might explain why so many people were talking). Eric Menteer (guitarist/keyboards for Blitzen Trapper) actually brought life to the stage. I like watching bands that are obviously into what they are doing. While Blitzen Trapper will never be a shining example of a band that “rocks out,” the stage antics of Mr. Menteer would fervently disagree with you.
What made Blitzen Trapper’s set more enjoyable (to me anyway) than Dawes’ was its intentional lack of focus on a particular vibe. As someone who is mostly unfamiliar with the tunes of this Portland band, they never let you get complacent or comfortable (read: bored) as a listener. At the end of their set, when they played a few songs (“Street Fighting Sun,” “Big Black Bird” among others) that reminded me of Lynyrd Skynyrd, I looked around the venue and asked myself the following question:
Does Seattle suffer from region envy? I’m not being completely serious but think about it for a second.
Northwestern folks often lampoon the South (speaking in general terms). On the other hand, here I am, watching a Portland band that may or may not be ripping off Lynyrd Skynrd, playing a sold out show in Seattle. Singer/songwriters in this city are unfortunately always talking about drinking whiskey and moonshine, writing possibly fictional lyrics about trade schools and working with their hands. Guitar players on the porch, singalongs with your friends, fiddles, washboards, romanticizing the beauty of your surroundings, that’s all very Southern to me. So why does this city, that in my eyes wants nothing to do with anything Dixie-related, embrace these indirect cultural allusions in the form of song but are much more likely to dismiss these ideas if they are presented as any other kind of construct?
Am I the only person that finds this kind of goofy?