Dawes at Rumba Cafe

Brian Ahnmark
It's not often that a town can boast about hosting a one-stop headlining tour by a band.

Columbus can make that claim, thanks to California quartet Dawes. The band was headed east, where frontman Taylor Goldsmith was set to embark on a national jaunt with his superb side/other project, Middle Brother.

“We figured we hadn't stopped in Columbus in a while,” Goldsmith explained apologetically early in the Dawes set. He was right; it had been a whole seven months. Dawes has now performed three times at the Rumba Cafe in Columbus in 13 months.

It's no wonder they're treated like adopted sons.

Kudos to the band for introducing fresh surprises with each appearance, keeping the Columbus faithful challenged and on its toes. On February 26 at the Rumba Cafe, the curveballs included a lineup change – original keyboardist Tay Strathairn has returned to the band, replacing Alex Casnoff – and six blistering new songs. The payoff was a scintillating preview of the band's forthcoming sophomore record, Nothing Is Wrong, which is tentatively slated for a June 2011 release.

“How Far We've Come” has been played at each of the three most recent Columbus shows. It has all the characteristics of a lead single (or lead leak, or whatever that initial appetizer is called these days) and appeal to spare, featuring Griffin Goldsmith on lead vocals from behind the drumkit and a smoking keyboard/guitar interlude. Performed second in the setlist, the song offered proof that the band has not lost one iota of momentum by adding Strathairn back into the mix, as his playing and harmony singing blended in seamlessly.

“Time Spent In Los Angeles” is a conflicted ode to the band's hometown. “Fire Away” develops dramatically from a mid-tempo rocker into a complex climax, entwining the song's multiple musical themes into a grand finale. “If I Wanted Someone” is a searing tip of the cap to Crazy Horse. “So Well” features mournful three-part harmonies, a suitable accompaniment to the lyrical theme about three men vying for the same woman's affection. “A Little Bit of Everything” was saved for the encore. It is a triumphant and moving number, celebrating the robust blessings of life.

Taylor has proclaimed that Nothing Is Wrong has an “aggressive” tone, and no word could more appropriately describe the delivery of these performances. This band has clearly used the road to its advantage, honing the new tunes into savage monsters on stage.

And, oh yeah, the “oldies” haven't suffered from two years on the road, either. Passionate renditions of 10 songs from Dawes' debut album North Hills fleshed out the remainder of the 16-song set. Highlights included the flawless three-part harmonies on “Give Me Time” and Wylie Gelber's thunderous, fluid bass lines throughout “My Girl To Me.”

The main set closed with the one-two punch of “Peaceful Valley” and “When My Time Comes.” The former, already a smoldering epic on the record, truly bares its teeth on stage, Griffin ferociously punishing his kit with multiple animalistic solos and fills. The latter, now the band's calling card, concluded with an audience chorus howling the refrain. Taylor turned his microphone toward the choir and gleefully leapfrogged about the stage.

It's a good bet Dawes won't be playing a tiny venue like the Rumba Cafe the next time they roll into town.