On paper, Dawes and Blitzen Trapper seem like a natural pairing for a headlining tour. Buzzy up-and-comers paired with prolific veterans — both with vintage-skewing folky, ’70s Americana sounds. But as Friday’s show at Seattle’s Neptune Theatre showed, that description is a little reductive for one band while it’s possibly too generous for the other.
Opening the show was brother/sister-fronted The Belle Brigade with a spirited, harmony-laden set that peaked with the raucous, relatable “Losers.” I daresay it was a more engaging collection of songs than the following set from Dawes, who — judging from audience enthusiasm — was the top attraction.
Dawes’ sophomore album Nothing is Wrong is a perfectly agreeable listen. It’s packed with wistful, slightly melancholy sentiments, often about love unrequited and spurned. The album’s production clearly owes a debt to the Laurel Canyon sound that’s mentioned alongside nearly any mention of the band you’ll find, but in a live setting, the cohesiveness dissipates and the band starts to sound like just another spotty indie rock band.
It doesn’t help that the songwriting really doesn’t hold up to more intent listening. The “fuck you” anthem “If I Wanted Someone” sounds more petulant than clever, and despite frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s protestations to the contrary, the song does make him sound kind of like an asshole, especially with the sweetened studio sound stripped away. Similarly, the mawkish aspects of album closer “A Little Bit of Everything” become much more painful as the song’s too-literal story lyrics are made more familiar.
There’s a solid bar band inside of Dawes somewhere, as more boisterous numbers like “Fire Away” proved, but the band especially suffers paired up with the impressively eclectic Blitzen Trapper. Ostensibly, Blitzen Trapper falls squarely in alt-country, folk-rock territory, but the band easily shifts into more experimental, electronic territory and can go all-out toward anthemic pop, prog rock, or swirling psychedelia.
The band’s latest, American Goldwing, is a lot more straightforward alt-country/classic rock than the band’s previous three albums, but Friday’s show saw the Portland band comfortably looking backward alongside playing the new material. That the loopy “Sleepytime in the Western World,” the fuzzy, distorted “Miss Spiritual Tramp” and the meat-and-potatoes “Might Find it Cheap” come from the same band is rather thrilling.
And the immediate lyrical imagery of a song like “Furr,” where Eric Earley recounts a transformation from man into beast and back again — well, not to beat a dead horse, but it doesn’t make the blunt storytelling of Dawes look any better.
Sure, this was billed as a co-headlining tour, but Blitzen Trapper’s slot along with their wide-ranging repertoire and sound-shifting performance made it clear who was the real headliner, or at least, who should’ve been. I wouldn’t count Dawes out just yet, but for now, their buzz appears to be at least as manufactured as their nostalgic sound.