Dawes Delivers an Emotional Tribute to Wylie Gelber in His Final Gig With The Band at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel Review+Photos: Dawes at Theatre at the Ace Hotel 5/5/23
LOS ANGELES, CA- Dawes brought a one-two punch to the Theatre at the Ace Hotel this weekend, playing two ebullient sets separated by an intermission as part of this tour’s An Evening With Dawes format. Settling in for the evening allowed them to put together a 2.5-hour setlist that showcased their latest album, and one of their finest, Misadventures of Doomscroller. They also played a little bit of everything, digging generously into their back catalog and leaving space to jam as lifelong friends.
To that end, they wanted to give this show a little something special, too. The night was both a homecoming for the Los Angeles folk-rock band and a bittersweet sendoff as the final headlining gig for bassist and founding member Wylie Gelber, who also designs and builds one-of-a-kind guitars, basses, and pedal boards from repurposed parts under the name Gelber & Sons. He’s departing Dawes to expand and commit to this work more fully.
“We’ve been playing music together since he was 15 and I was 18, and [my brother and our drummer] Griff was 13,” lead singer and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith wrote in a February Instagram post announcing Gelber’s final shows. “I don’t know what being a musician is without him. He has set the bar for what great bass playing sounds like to me. It’s gonna be hard, and tears have been shed, but change always leads to some kind of newfound strength.”
In the post, Goldsmith promised that Dawes isn’t going anywhere. Gelber will certainly be missed, though, with his distinctive style and his laidback stroll across the stage, often propping his foot on the drum riser to lock in with the other half of the rhythm section, Griffin Goldsmith. Gelber’s bass lines are deceptively simple, anchoring the rhythm while coloring Goldsmith’s chording with an understated panache.
Rounded out by Lee Pardini on keys, Trevor Menear on guitar, and Ian Bush on percussion, the band, now in its 14th year, performs with the same fervor as a young LA band cutting their teeth—a sentiment most keenly felt in their performance of “Still Feel Like A Kid.” Their playing has matured, but that youthful exuberance shows through in their extended takes while playing live, with Goldsmith—a criminally underrated guitar player—and Menear trading soaring leads. Armed with just one old Telecaster all night, Taylor Goldsmith punctuated the emotions of his narratives with solos that stirred, his choice of notes never upstaging the heart of the song.
After witnessing a relatively early Dawes performance in 2012 as the house band for Glen Campbell’s last performance at the Hollywood Bowl, it was clear they were a band that would endure. That night, even Kris Kristofferson remarked on their musicianship to the crowd. Eleven years and many albums later, Goldsmith & Co. continue to build upon that pedigree. Their breezy, modern analog sound pairs with poignant, emotional storytelling that creates a tapestry where all can find a thread.
Throughout the evening at the Ace, cheers and tears flowed in equal measure. Stomping anthems such as “When My Time Comes” sat alongside thoughtful renditions of tracks like “A Little Bit of Everything,” performed solo by Taylor Goldsmith. Both illustrated how deftly they can cradle an audience’s emotions. One of the finest performances of the evening came by way of another of his solo acoustic performances, a newer song called “The Game.” The story of a woman determined to make it as an artist on her terms, the song laid bare the genius of his storytelling. “The losers only think about the winners, and the winners only think about the game,” he would sing to applause.
Perhaps their most enduring song, “All Your Favorite Bands” was among the most bittersweet as it closed the second set. With Gelber leaving, as well as their longtime lighting engineer, the message of the track was never more palpable. Dawes, in so many ways, are an American treasure, that rare breed of ego-averse band who can rock you like the Eagles while leaving you weeping like Joni. For all that, we, too, hope their El Camino runs forever.