Among the best known ballads by Los Angeles-based folk-rock band Dawes, "A Little Bit of Everything" sets the first of its several gloomy scenes on the Golden Gate Bridge. The opening lines of that song:
With his back against the San Francisco traffic
On the bridge's side that faces towards the jail
Setting out to join a demographic
He hoists his first leg up over the rail
I know: Jesus, right? But that's Dawes, who are Taylor Goldsmith on vocals and guitar, his brother Griffin Goldsmith on drums, Wylie Gelber on bass, and Lee Pardini on keys. They're sentimental, even tragic, without apology, and in fact they seem pretty happy with themselves about it.
Dawes played "A Little Bit of Everything" at the Fillmore last night, headlining the 25th Noise Pop Festival, and they also played, forgive me, a little bit of everything, reaching back into a catalogue that feels bottomless even though it only dates to 2009. Presenting themselves as journeymen American rockers — "We want to be the hardest working band in America" Taylor Goldmisth told the audience — the band played two sets with no opener. It was an act studded with more anthemic, country-rock platitude-infused ballads than you might have thought possible, and if it feels to you, as it does to me, like Dawes has been around way longer than they really have, it could be by virtue of their timeless, artful style.
On the flip-side of the band's hard-working Americana vibe, Dawes cultivates, as they put it on the track "Time Spent In Los Angeles," a "certain kind of sadness — those two phrases being made to rhyme. Aspects of that, folksy, Lauren Canyon melancholy, are self-consciously masculine: Raw rather than tender, nihilistic rather than optimistic.
But Dawes' depressing lows — and boy they are low — allow for big, cathartic highs, with soaring guitar solos and audience sing-alongs. "A Little Bit of Everything," for example, is eventually a tune about redemption— the "little bit of everything" becoming, variously, what to order at a buffet, what to seek out in life, and a lover's many charms. If here, as elsewhere, Dawes feels a little too earnest, it's also true that they feel pretty damn good. Last night, when they changed the lyric "It's the red moon when it's full" to sing instead "It's the Fillmore when it's full," the audience was more inclined to whoop than to groan. We were feeling it.