Venice-based singer guitarist Blake Mills was advertised as the opening act but, in a strategic move, Dawes decided instead to integrate the talented musician into its dual sets of experimental music. It actually wasn't much of a stretch to employ Mills' talent this way. Although they haven't played together in a while, Mills was part of the original band Simon Dawes, which featured guitarist Taylor Goldsmith and bassist Wylie Gelber, who both went on to form Dawes.
They were joined by Goldsmith's brother, Griffin, on drums and keyboardist Tay Strathairn to complete the new Dawes band. Goldsmith is the charismatic lead singer and songwriter for Dawes. With a distinctive voice and exceptional guitar skills, he leads the band in and out of tightly structured rock segments, dripping with an infusion of classic American folk and country rock. Elements of The Band, Poco and even Gram Parsons can be heard in Dawes' rich sound. But Goldsmith's powerful vocals and the group's jam-band style creates a sound that Dawes can claim as its own.
About five songs into the show, Goldsmith introduced Mills.
“Usually you have an opening band that plays the first set," he said. "But we're trying something different tonight. We're going to have Blake join us and experiment with the music.”
The experiment was a resounding success with Mills' own exquisite vocal and guitar skills meshing perfectly with Dawes. The 25-year-old Mills has already racked up an impressive array of sessions work with musicians as diverse as Lucinda Williams to Fiona Apple. He is a go-to favorite studio guitarist for legendary producer Rick Rubin.
The concert featured songs from Dawes' new album, Stories Don't End, as well as a number of songs from Mills' album, Break Mirrors. The seamless blending of music by Dawes and Mills was best portrayed on the song “Hey Lover” from Stories Don't End. In that tune, which was originally penned by Mills, Taylor Goldsmith traded lead vocals with his younger brother, Griffin, while Mills traded guitar riffs with Taylor.
The band played two full sets, the second of which delved into older material and some covers, with a more fierce jam-band approach to the songs. The near three-hour concert seemed to be a hit with an enraptured audience on a sleepy winter night in Santa Barbara.
— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.