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A Dynamic Double Bill

October 27th, 2011

Blitzen Trapper/Dawes – Webster Hall – October 26, 2011


It seems like an easy enough formula: Step 1: Write great songs. Step 2: Play ’em live all over the country. Step 3: Success. Of course, it’s that first part that’s the trick. But last night two bands showed how it’s done in front of a sold-out Webster Hall. The first part of the double bill was Blitzen Trapper, which, at times, seemed to have built an entire irresistible sound solely out of musical discoveries buried in the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.” Working through material off their new album, American Goldwing, the band was a study in guitars and harmonies and well-placed embellishments, like harmonicas and Moog synth. Like on the album, they opened with the crunchy rock of “Might Find It Cheap,” exclaiming “…but you’ll never find it for free!” Frontman Eric Earley has one of those voices that you hear on a CD and just can’t wait to match the face to the voice.

Two or three guitars—acoustic and electric—mixed with keys, drums and bass, and each sound was like a single string, strummed together to make a pitch-perfect chord. Blitzen Tapper’s songs were superlatively realized and set a Gothic landscape, with tunes like “Astronaut” and standout “Black River Killer” off Furr. The title track brought out a unique mix of synth, slide guitar and harmonica, making otherworldly music out of everyday objects. The group made plenty of room for guitar solos and short jams, always highlighting the powerful melodies and songwriting prowess. Closing with “Fletcher,” the tale of a guy who perhaps had too much to drink to take the wheel, the set was musical storytelling and roots rock at its absolute finest.

Watching Dawes play New York City over the past couple of years is like tracking data points on a plot that’s continually progressing upward. The question is how high will it go and when will they get there? Taylor Goldsmith and Co. were all smiles as usual, working most of the material off their acclaimed Nothing Is Wrong album. Goldsmith has that “he looks like someone I know” kind of appearance and an “I know a guy like that” stage presence—the type that can’t stand still, with permanently tousled hair and might have a guitar strap with his name on it. But not many of us know a guy who writes love songs like Goldsmith does, with the conversational lyrics and just-right melodies.

Although there was plenty of energy from the band, the strength seemed to come from the quiet moments, like on “Million Dollar Bill,” which was good enough to melt the hearts of the ladies in the crowd and keep their dates’ heads bopping. The set built momentum as it went, peaking with a big guitar jam in “Peace in the Valley” that Goldsmith treated like calisthenics across the stage and then when drummer Griffin Goldsmith sang a great cover version of “Kodachrome” before turning the lights on the crowd for the joyfully inevitable “When My Time Comes.” —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine | www.jcmcilwaine.com