Dawes/Cory Chisel | 02.23 | Arlington, VA

Words by: Josh Klemons | Images by: Gretchen Murphy

Dawes/Cory Chisel :: 02.23.10 :: Iota Club & Cafe :: Arlington, VA

Dawes :: 02.23 :: Arlington, VA
This was a night of button-down shirts, tight pants and big shoes. This was a night of Telecaster electric guitars, rolling bass lines and rocking drums. This was a night of great vocals and solid songwriting. This was a packed house at the Iota, where Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons played a set followed shortly thereafter by headliner Dawes.

Cory Chisel took the stage looking a bit like James Franco and a lot like an indie rocking singer-songwriter. It was quickly apparent that his small stature and unassuming nature belied his powerful voice and immense songwriting abilities. His drummer played lines that were one part Americana and one part the Killers. His bassist sat on top of his amp, looking like an excited kid in a playground. In the front, Chisel was wedged between his keyboard playing female harmony vocalist and his lead guitar player, the latter wearing a Russian styled black fur cap, large rimmed glasses and a black sport coat.

They opened the set with “See It My Way” and they never looked back. Although most in the crowd professed, when prodded, to having never seen the band before, everyone was excited, creeping towards the stage in the tiny club within the first notes of the set. Early in the show, Chisel broke a string on his guitar. He clearly was not prepared for this and had to ask if anyone had a guitar that he could borrow. Fortunately someone did. While this mystery guitar made its way forward, Chisel apologized, saying, “I didn’t expect to acoustic rock this hard.” While he was tuning his new guitar, he got his first request of the night, from a girl right up front, and with a smile, he graciously acquiesced. He played a beautiful love song, “Home in the Woods,” full of imagery of the forests of his Midwestern youth, real or imagined.

Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons :: 02.23 :: Arlington, VA
For the next track, the band did not exit the stage, but the rhythm section relaxed and Chisel played a stunning track called “It Won’t Be Long,” in which he sings, “I’ll take you with me wherever I go/ Singing your sweet songs I know so well/ Halfway to heaven, still halfway to hell/ I’m going home to you now, home to you now/ Oh it won’t be long.” Adriel Harris sang desultory harmonies while his lead guitarist picked notes to match the melody. Then his bassist, still sitting atop his amp with his legs swinging to his own beat, took a surprisingly soulful harmonica solo. This was one of those songs that reminded you that sometimes a little can go a long way.

Later in the set, Chisel told a story about getting drunk and singing along to Bob Dylan songs, substituting his own lyrics for whatever words he could not remember. Apparently when he is drunk, that is about all of them. Harris had the foresight to write down one of these drunken substitution rants, and the world is a better place for it. The song was no drunken parody, no mere tribulation; this was pure, inspired folk rock gold. Despite the fact that only occasionally throughout the solo piece did he attempt – always successfully – to emulate Dylan (he actually sounded more like Colin Hay), he played a song that could have come straight off of a best hits album of the legendary songwriter. The refrain was, “I never meant to love you, but it’s too late now,” and it was heartbreaking while also being surprisingly fresh and funny. I guess the world can always use more freestyling, drunken Dylan impersonators.

Headliner Dawes took the stage and showed us what happened to ’70s garage rock. It got itself educated, learned how to play, and hit the road running. These guys are a force. Guitarist Taylor Goldsmith is a firecracker. When Chisel was finishing up his set, he made a comment about not knowing how Goldsmith still had a voice after weeks on the road. It took about one refrain from their opener to understand what he was talking about. Goldsmith holds nothing back. Ever. He sings with his whole self, he plays guitar like it matters, and boy can he dance. Picture something along the lines of Yosemite Sam with ants in his pants at a rodeo competing for the last beer of the night. If you can do that you’re somewhere in the vicinity. He jumps and stamps his feet and rolls around. He takes a sip of water from a bottle, and then rather than putting it down somewhere, he throws it. Not violently, simply because there is too much going on to worry about where it lands. He rocks when he sings; he shakes when he solos. The guy is a dynamo. And he is fiercely talented.

And so is his band, made up of younger brother Griffin Goldsmith, Wylie Gelber and Alex Casnoff on drums, bass and keys, respectively. Everyone but Gelber sings and they do killer harmonies. If it is immediately clear that Taylor grew up listening to Neil Young, it is equally clear that these guys schooled themselves on the ways of Crosby, Stills, Nash AND Young.

Dawes :: 02.23 :: Arlington, VA
Others songs played, both new and old, included “If I Wanted Someone,” “Love Is All I Am,” “Time Spent in Los Angeles” and the hauntingly beautiful “So Well,” the tale of a women who could save the different male protagonists in the story, but only for a short while.

At times Taylor sounded like Jeff Tweedy, at others Robert Earl Keene. At one point, he took on the Warren Haynes southern rocker persona and did it well. On the last track of the set, he suddenly yelled, “Sing it!” and the audience jumped right in on “When My Time Comes,” a song that is part rocker and part Irish drinking song. The audience knew the words and they gave Taylor’s voice a rest, if only for a moment. Then the set was over and the band walked to the side of the room, as there was no backstage.

They came back up, with plenty of prompting from the capacity Tuesday night crowd that was still ready to dance, and opened the two-song encore with a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” During the song, people started throwing rolled up dollar bills at the band and telling them to take it off. It was late and the crowd was still in on the fun of the night. Dawes clearly did not expect such a turnout on a Tuesday and they were vocally and visibly excited to see so many friendly faces so far from home. The final track, “Peace in the Valley,” began with just the brothers playing guitar/vocals and sparse drums. Then the band came in and closed out the song, and the night, with gusto.

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