Review: Dawes Live In The UK (The Haunt, Brighton and The Union Chapel, London)

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My golden rule when writing reviews is to never include ‘I’ or ‘My’. I’ve already broken it in my very first sentence. And the second. However, there are times when you have to betray the blueprint. There are some moments that can’t be described using just clichés, or a five-star rating system – watching Dawes live was one of those moments.

Last week, I saw Dawes in two very different scenarios. The first of which was in my hometown of Brighton in a sticky-floored venue I regularly frequent, aptly named The Haunt. Despite having seen the LA band twice before, I’d never seen them play my stomping ground.

For some reason, I felt nervous. My Mum, who is also a fan, was nervous too. Neither of us knew how they would be received in a place that was home to us, but alien to them. When support act Marcus Foster began his set, the room was still sparse. I was starting to think that nobody would turn up. Even though I knew Dawes deserved a warm welcome, I’d been to The Haunt before in a crowd of just 20 – and it was immensely awkward. Thankfully, people did roll in – slowly but surely.

When Dawes came to the stage, there was a respectably large gathering. Even if there had been just the 20 that I feared, it probably wouldn’t have mattered as all would have shared the same excitement. The crowd greeted each song with large cheers and showed their enthusiasm best when singing ‘When My Time Comes’. Many songs were masterfully jammed out with ‘Peace In The Valley’ stretching out into what could be the best live performance I’ve ever heard.  At the time, I thought it would be a long wait until another perfect moment – but I was wrong. The next moment happened the very next day.

Waking up in the morning with The Haunt’s entrance stamp still stained on my right hand, I felt that my experience of seeing Dawes was incomplete. I couldn’t say that they hadn’t played a long set – they arrived onstage at 8.45pm and played right until the 10.30pm curfew. I couldn’t say that the crowd’s reaction was weak – it certainly wasn’t. I couldn’t fault anything with the performance, and there lied the problem. I knew that I wanted to see Dawes again. I spoke to my Mum, and she felt the same way.

Suddenly, we were buying last minute tickets for their gig at the Union Chapel and sat on a train headed for London. We spent the entire journey reassuring each other that this wasn’t weird. “This doesn’t make us obsessive, or anything”, we’d say. “We’re only going again because the Union Chapel show will be different and acoustic”, we kept saying. Seeing an artist two nights in a row is something that I’d never done before, and something that my Mum had only done for Bruce Springsteen in a year I’m not allowed to name.

Arriving at Islington’s Union Chapel, it was immediately obvious that the venue couldn’t be any more different to The Haunt. It boasted beautiful stained glass windows instead of none, church pews instead of sweaty club sofas, mugs of tea instead of cans of Red Stripe and, most differently of all, toilets with locks on the door (albeit, toilets that were on a prefab outside of the chapel). Therefore, we expected an entirely different night.

However, when Marcus Foster began his act again, it suddenly dawned on us that we’d come to see the same show. Foster had plugged his guitar in, and it was loud. He was playing different songs but this wasn’t the acoustic gig we’d mistakenly thought the venue would host. Whilst, a lively performance from Dawes is always enjoyable, we’d been hoping that the sound would suit the surroundings.

Opening up with ‘Most People’, Dawes were clearly intending on keeping things as upbeat as possible – in a chapel. Whilst, I couldn’t complain, the surroundings were reverent. You couldn’t throw your arms in the air and sing-a-long. I almost preferred the spit-and-sawdust venues; I knew how to behave there. Here, I didn’t even know what level of applause was appropriate.

As ‘Fire Away’ had my frustrated feet tapping on the chapel grills, there was a sudden stop to the action. The sound had gone quiet; the room had gone dark. Nobody knew what had happened but the band carried on, with lead singer Taylor Goldsmith geeing up the crowd into continuing the song. It was a loud and lively response, but as the audience repeatedly sung “When you need someone to walk away from…”, panicked staff started running down the aisles trying to resume normal order. Technicians flitted across the stage and heads poked in and out of what looked like a fuse cupboard. It was clear that something was wrong, but it would surely be fixed soon.

“Somebody’s probably pulled a plug out or something”, the people behind, beside and in front of me all mused. I thought the same, but as time went on, the singing got quieter and the band looked increasingly concerned. This wasn’t a case of just ‘turning it off and on again’. Taylor Goldsmith was playing messenger between the staff and the audience, and shouted the seemingly bad news that there had been a local power cut, with even the streetlights being blacked out. My head sunk into my hands as I saw the set time being eaten up by the power loss.

However, the room didn’t stay silent for long. There was still no power but Goldsmith had darted offstage to grab an acoustic guitar, and perched himself on the edge of the stage asking for a quiet audience so that he could sing unplugged. The Union Chapel may be famous for its acoustics, but even the most talented of singers would struggle to entertain their audience without a microphone, yet Goldsmith’s duet of ‘How Far We’ve Come with his brother Griffin was simply beautiful.

The audience stayed silent while Dawes performed, appreciating the stunning harmonies of the Goldsmith brothers and keyboardist Tay Strathairn, but as each song came to an end with one final guitar strum, there was a rapturous applause. The intensity of the response was almost as breath-taking as the music itself. There were even shouts for the power to be kept off but Taylor Goldsmith’s solo performance of ‘A Little Bit Of Everything’, which lead to many standing to cheer, was the last before the ‘problem’ was resolved.

When Dawes came back plugged in, my reservations about a ‘loud’ set in the Union Chapel were entirely swept away. I had been lucky enough to witness a magical spontaneous set, and I could have happily swayed to soft acoustics all night but there was also a dramatic change in the atmosphere that made the rest of the night better for it. The crowd was united by the drama, and the warm reaction grew with every song, building up to an inevitable and emotional standing ovation for an extraordinarily talented band.

As the bizarre night came to an end and people begun shuffling out from their pews, an announcement apologised for the power cut and we all stood there aimlessly cheering at a tannoy in disbelief at how lucky we’d been.

From the diehards to the curious, from the front row to those crammed in at the back upstairs, from the Dawes virgins to those who’d seen them the night before – all of us shared two things, a huge appreciation of a technical failure and an even greater respect for Dawes.

Thank you Dawes, and thank you power cut.

Amy Jo McLellan
Amy Jo McLellan is the editor of Alt Scribe. She started writing about music in 2010 and has been dancing about architecture ever since. She became a featured blogger for Buzznet after winning their 2011 ‘Summer of Buzz’ talent search. Amy knows far too much about her favourite bands and describes herself as a “professional fangirl”. CURRENTLY LISTENING TO: Kids In Glass Houses, Dawes. SPECIALIST SUBJECT: The rise and fall of 'Emo' 2006 - Now.

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