Dawes, which came up the ranks playing southern California clubs, realized a mega-star worthy turn in August when it performed for a sold-out crowd of more than 18,000 at Denver’s Pepsi Center, opening for Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra.
The Los Angeles-based rock band warmed up the crowd for the co-founder of the 1970s pop-rock band ELO for 15 such large-scale shows this summer.
“It was amazing. We’re all like massive ELO fans forever. We were so stoked. We got to hear all those songs live, from the best seats in the house,” Wylie Gelber, Dawes’ bassist, said.
Now the West Coast foursome is headlining “An Evening with Dawes: Passwords Tour,” which stops Wednesday at Denver’s 1,600-seat Ogden Theatre.
L.A. native Gelber is one of the band’s founding members, along with siblings Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums). The band’s newest member, keyboardist Lee Pardini, took over in 2017.
“The more you play with a certain group, you just kind of get in the same groove. If Taylor forgets a lyric, we all know what to do. Me, Taylor and Griff have had that for a long time. We were in a band before. And Lee fell right into that. He’s the most talented musician among us,” Gelber said.
Gelber, 30, spent his 20s with the band, which released its inaugural studio album, “North Hills,” in 2009. Gelber and Taylor Goldsmith have been playing together since they were teens and were part of the band’s predecessor, rock band Simon Dawes, in Malibu, Calif.
It’s been a prolific near-decade for Dawes, which now has six studio albums to its name. The latest, “Passwords,” was released June 22.
From the band’s website: “Over the years that followed their ‘North Hills’ debut, the band evolved and electrified. The grooves deepened. The amplifiers grew louder.”
Often compared with classic rock acts Crosby, Stills and Nash and Buffalo Springfield, Dawes has morphed its folk-rock beginnings into what Gelber calls plain rock ‘n’ roll.
“People have called us folk, but we call ourselves just a rock ‘n’ roll band in an older sense of the word. We’re musicians that take their craft seriously,” he said.
Known for the nostalgia of past songs such as “When My Time Comes” off its first album and “All Your Favorite Bands,” off the 2015 album of the same name that hit No. 1 on the U.S. Folk charts, Dawes has grown a national audience without ever having a major radio hit.
Speaking this month from a tour stop in Portland, Maine, Gelber said the “evening with ...” format of the Ogden Theatre show will be two full Dawes sets, no opener, for 2½ to three hours, with a short intermission.
“We’re having fun playing a bunch of the new songs, like ‘Feed the Fire.’ We have a nice complex arrangement of that right now,” he said. “We’re not super married to the exact version of a song you hear on a record.”
The groovy, Steely Dan-like tune “Feed the Fire” on “Passwords” offsets rock anthem “Living in the Future,” with a strong bass-line and a lyric message of volatility and change. The album gets its name from “Living in the Future” lyrics: “It’s the battle of the passwords / It’s the trumpets on the hill / It’s that constant paranoia / It’s the final fire drill / And if you won’t sing the anthem / They’ll go find someone else who will / They’re cracking down.”
Rolling Stone has described “Passwords” as political and “unabashedly romantic.”
Frontman Taylor Goldsmith writes most of the songs, and some of the newest, most hopeful tunes are a nod to his fiancee, actress/musician Mandy Moore. “Never Gonna Say Goodbye,” which he wrote for her and adapted for the band, is an example.
“He’ll write the song in its rawest chord, with no real feel to it, and then we kind of arrange it all as a band,” Gelber said. “Usually when we’re off tour, there are songs that flow out of him.”
About the songs on “Passwords,” Goldsmith told Consequence of Sound podcast, “Many of these songs are an attempt to come to terms with the modern world, while always trying to consider both sides of the story.”
Gelber said it’s difficult for him to define any album.
“It’s always hard for me to describe our individual records. The songs obviously steer us in the direction we’re gonna go. They all are just Dawes albums. They all sound like Griff on drums and me on bass and Taylor singing,” he said. “I would agree that maybe the songwriting and lyrics are more political and romantic than others. I’ve been hearing Taylor write songs for 15 years. Sonically, this record was a little more kind of ethereal, strange and obscure with more synthesizer and tones.”
The best part of touring for Gelber is performing, which he described as being zen-like and immersive. “I don’t sing in the band, so it’s easy for me to get lost in the show. People will say, ‘Did you see that dude in the front row freaking out?’ after a show, and I didn’t even notice. I can just walk around on stage and be in the zone.”
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