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Concert Review: Blitzen Trapper and Dawes, Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA, 11/11/11

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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.

Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper. Photo by Dusty Somers.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.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • Donny

    Jeez – That’s the first review from this tour that had anything bad to say about Dawes. Doesnt sound like the writer listened to the albums before the show.

  • Luca Brazzi

    “It doesn’t help that the songwriting really doesn’t hold up to more intent listening.” Really? I think you may have it out for them, spend some time with the first album as well and hopefully it will begin to resonate. If the live show doesn’t get you, then I really don’t know what will.

  • It actually isn’t the only review that has anything “bad” to say about Dawes. See here.

    I was at the show. They didn’t do anything special and Blitzen Trapper definitely made sense as the headliner

  • zhanay

    I saw this show last night at the Music Box in LA. Dawes headlined. Belle Brigade opened. Blitzen Trapper in the middle. Belle Brigade are fantastic. Dawes were wonderful. It’s too bad that the short attention span of most audiences these days can’t enjoy well written intelligent lyrics. Blitzen Trapper can’t make up their mind as to whether they are folk rock, arena rock, southern rock, psychedelic. Great players, but (IMO) the lyrics are non-sensical poseur gibberish. It was boring waiting through them to see Dawes. I know lots of people will disagree. For a really good explanantion, see the review of Blitzen Trapper’s latest record in the Seattle Weekly.

  • zhanay-

    First of all, that isn’t a review of Blitzen Trapper’s “Latest” record, it’s their last one. Also, if you are using Seattle Weekly’s opinions as an authority to base your argument on, you should read their actual review of THIS very show, because they praise Blitzen Trapper, while mentioning how they deserved the headlining spot over Dawes who they felt were lackluster, at best