Rule number one -- never have Dr. Dog as your opening act. Sure, technically this was one of those co-headlining bills, but once the Philly boys had crushed the living hell out of their set, Dawes was basically tiptoeing over the embers with their Laurel Canyon soft-rock. That's not to say their set wasn't good, but it served as a massive decrescendo for the overall vibe of the night.
The Dog came out strong, sending last year's "Heavy Light" into a stretched out territory that briefly felt like vintage Guns N' Roses. Seriously, it got that big. The rest of the set was fleshed out fairly evenly with tracks from Be the Void, Fate, and Shame, Shame. Now as much as I can't live without this band in my life, they do seem to have fallen into a more predictable routine with their setlists since their popularity has exploded. They have six albums and several EPs of which they still draw from, but for a while their sets would be spotted with unreleased gems from guitarist Scott McMicken that would take you on unexpected jaunts of self-discovery. Now they seem much more apt to play only songs that the whole crowd knows, and thus leave past treasures lost and forgotten. Maybe I just keep catching them on their more formulaic nights, and I am one of their most nerdy and devout fans, but I miss the surprises they used to drop. And sure, I positively adore their cover of "Heart it Races" by Architecture in Helsinki, but they've played it at the last three gigs I've attended. All that being said, their set was incredible. The room sounded amazing this night, and when you can hear all their harmonies mesh it creates one of the most brilliant, full sounds in rock today. Despite my finicky gripes, it was one of the best sets I've ever seen the boys play over my past decade of watching them.
So riding off the high of that set, I was stoked for Dawes. When North Hills first came out in 2009, I listened to at least part of the album every day for several months. And while their subsequent records haven't been able to match that debut, I consider myself a fan. But three songs into their set my eyes began to droop, and suddenly I realized -- "Holy shit, all their music is wicked fuckin' slow." It's one thing when you're driving on the highway with the weekend sun in your eyes; it's another thing all together when it's 11:30 on a Sunday night. Even "That Western Skyline," one of my favorite tunes of the past five years, just felt like a drag. They sounded tight and they were putting on a great show, but it wasn't enough to distract me from the converse excitement I felt of seeing Dr. Dog's drummer, Eric Slick, sidle up next to me at the bar during the set. It seemed most of the crowd felt the same way. People were very attentive and there was grand applause after every number, but the spring-lined floor of the Crystal Ballroom which had been in constant flutter during the previous set, was now utterly still and motionless. In a way it was rather frustrating; I was really excited to see Dawes, and if it had been in some other scenario I most likely would have been well entranced. But after following up one of the most dynamic bands on the planet, it was hard to perceive their music as anything but flat. What had looked like an ideal two-for on paper was in reality one of the most dichotomous lineups I've ever experienced. There was a moment during "Peace In the Valley" where I had a jolt of excitement, but it quickly faded. Out of respect for both the band and myself, I stuck around for their set even as each song felt more like a lullaby than the last. By the end of the show my feet felt like lead. So here's a tip for all you bands out there -- if you're asked to do a co-bill with Dr. Dog, do the smart thing and ask to go on first.