I like this band called Dawes. They are fine musicians. They’re from Los Angeles, which is where artificiality turns people into sad jerks. I like that. I think that’s a great thing to want to write music about. I guess that’s why I like Dawes so much. All they ever sing about is wanting to be loved, and then getting hurt when that love goes away—and about the hollowness of Los Angeles, and how painful that hollowness is. It’s great stuff.
I saw Deer Tick three times in October 2011. It was the best month of my life. October was over, and I was left feeling pretty empty. I wanted to hear music again. I thought of bands that reminded me of Deer Tick. I thought of bands that make me good when I feel bad. I thought of Dawes.
And so I decided I wanted to see Dawes. Maybe they would be coming around to Austin. Every band, I figured, makes their way to Austin at some point or another. It’s the live music capital of the world. It’s the place to go.
As it happened, Dawes was planning on stopping by Austin. They were, I read, playing at the Moody Theater at Austin City Limits Live. I’m not really sure what that last part means. It’s just what I read. Is the Moody Theater in Austin City Limits Live? Is Austin City Limits Live . . . a building? I don’t know. All I know is that I wanted to be there, if God would allow me to.
God said, “Okay.” God said, “Just this once.”
There was a catch, and it was a weird one: you had to win tickets in order to see Dawes. I didn’t understand why that was. It seemed stupid.
Apparently it was some sort of celebration for a radio station I had never heard of called KGSR. KGSR wanted everyone to come out and celebrate their 21st year of existence—so long as one had a ticket. I figured there was no way I’d win, but I tried anyway. And by try I mean I registered on their website and didn’t understand how to enter the contest. I gave up. So much for Dawes, I thought.
• • •
Three weeks later I got an email informing me I had won a pair of tickets to KGSR’s 21st birthday celebration. It said, “Come on down and get your tickets!”
I said, “Sure, okay.” I had no idea how I had won. I hadn’t done anything at all—other than sign up to become a member on their website.
I went to that very website. It was full of stupid garbage. KGSR made it sound like it was the most exclusive event of the year. They made it sound as if Jesus Christ Himself would be there. They urged listeners to call in for a slim chance of winning tickets. I was confused. I hadn’t done that at all. In fact I had exerted almost no effort in order to win. Huh, I thought. Huh.
I invited Chantal. I told her Dawes was pretty good. I gave her North Hills and Nothing Is Wrong and told her to prepare to have a heart attack. She said they were okay. She said they weren’t as good as Delta Spirit or Deer Tick—two other bands I had forced her to worship.
That was a fair assessment, I said. I agreed with her only because Dawes lets their drummer sing every now and then, and when that happens it’s usually not a very good idea.
• • •
The night before the concert, I felt my phone vibrate in my pants. It was Chantal. She said her friend Carley was beside herself with jealousy over my winning a pair of tickets. She said she loved Dawes. I felt a little bad that Carley couldn’t come.
And then I remembered how lucky I had been. I felt pretty good about winning those tickets. I was maybe a little boastful about it. I told everyone about it “Dawes—” I said, “for free!” I was so very excited.
Thirty minutes later, Chantal told me Carley had won tickets.
“Sorry, man,” said Chantal. “They’re just giving those tickets away.” My chest sank. I didn’t feel like a special little boy any more.
“Tell Carley she can’t sit with us,” I said. “She might try to steal Taylor away.” I was of course referring to lead singer and principal songwriter, Taylor Goldsmith, whom I harbored a fierce crush on. I wanted him all to myself. I wanted him to sing “Time Spent in Los Angeles” into my ear and my ear alone. Carley could have his brother—the drummer. He could sing to her all he wanted, for all I cared.
I went to sleep that night feeling stupid.
• • •
The day of the concert was weird. It moved slowly.
But concert days are always weird. I get so excited that I don’t feel excited at all. I just want the day to be over with, and for live music to arrive. The fact that I have to eat and shower and walk and talk and breathe and blink annoys me.
I slept until the late afternoon to speed things up. I wanted to see Dawes so bad it nearly gave me a kidney stone.
And I knew they were headlining. I knew I would have to sit through three other bands before I got to see them. There was The Gourds, who, judging by their promotional band photo, looked like a bunch of old dudes with guitars. Then Givers, whom I had heard once or twice before. Matt Kearney would be the last person to separate me from Dawes, and I had no idea who in the hell that was. He looked like a real jerk. He wore a dumb hat.
I took a nap at some point. I fell asleep on the floor. I slept until it was time to go. I must have been awake for only ten hours that whole day.
The doors opened at seven p.m., but I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about seeing The Gourds, so I opted to make pasta instead.
I ate some pasta. It was just OK. I overcooked the noodles. The sauce was too cold.
After I’d finished what I’m sure can best be described as a sad meal, I hopped on my bicycle and sped down Duval in the direction of Chantal’s house. At the corner of San Jacinto and Dean Keaton, my phone went off.
“Ryan?” said Chantal.
“I’m on my way,” I said. I panted and took a sip of water. I had planned to make it to her house in less than ten minutes. I had less than five minutes to cut through campus and cross Guadalupe and do all of that crazy bullshit.
When the light turned green, I sped off like a real maniac. People were startled. I felt like a jerk. I wanted to see Dawes so badly.
• • •
I arrived at Chantal’s house in some obscene amount of time. I was covered in sweat—and coupled with the cool temperature, felt like I’d just snorted half a bag of blow. I was hot-cold. I was on fire and sick.
Chantal looked perplexed. She asked me if I was OK.
“Yes,” I said, huffing and puffing.
“Should I bring a sweater?” said Chantal.
“No,” I said. “God, no.”
We got on our bicycles. Chantal warned that she would kill me if the temperature dropped further. I had told her to calm the hell down. She frowned.
I opened the door and sped off towards downtown Austin. The sky was starless. The only thing we could make out was the big white moon. There was a ring of soft light around it.
Chantal was faster than me. She also knew where we were going, which was Willie Nelson Blvd. I had to laugh. Willie Nelson Blvd. was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard.
We stopped at stop signs, and waited at traffic lights. We let cars pass us. We biked like hell. I hoped in my heart that we’d waited long enough to miss The Gourds perform.
• • •
Willie Nelson Blvd. was a clusterfuck of rich people and laughing people and laughing rich people. It was crammed with cars and lights and pedestrians and pedicabs blasting Michael Jackson. “Hey, man,” I said to a pedicab driver behind me. I was counting on Austin friendliness. The driver didn’t disappoint. He was unfailingly nice.
“Hey, how are you?” said the driver.
“Great,” I said. “And you?”
“Doin’ good, man,” he said.
Before us there was a great building shaped like a cube. It was the color of a storm cloud. It had exposed walkways lined with glass plating and metal railings. It was lit up like a Christmas tree. It was the Moody Theater. “That’s it,” I said to Chantal. “There it is.”
People were eating and laughing and talking at its base. There was a restaurant and little shops making up the ground floor. Chantal and I crossed the street and locked our bicycles up. We crossed back over and tried to find a way in. It seemed impenetrable. We felt stupid.
Chantal spotted a set of stairs. They were partially hidden by a wall. We quickly made our ascent to the nearest group of people. They were entering through the lowest set of doors. We thought we could go in that way, too. We were told to keep scaling the building. “General admission is upstairs,” said a woman in a blue coat. She said, essentially, that we had to go way the hell up there in order to be admitted.
So we climbed and climbed. We made it to the top and got in the “will call” line. I gave my name to the man behind the table, and he quickly scanned an enormous list. “Ah,” he said. “Here you are.”
Chantal and I were given two orange bracelets. That meant we were third-class citizens. That meant we would be in the nosebleed section.
The lobby was swank as hell. It had leather couches and fancy bars and a terrific view of downtown Austin which wrapped around the entire building. I could make out lights and trees and buildings for miles in every direction. Chantal and I didn’t care about any of that, though. We just wanted to see Dawes.
Dawes was being kept at bay by a terrible force, which was The Gourds. I could hear them playing in the auditorium, which was just past the corner bar with the cute bartenders. It sounded like circus-jamboree music. It sounded like the kind of stuff that people in their fifties get their rocks off to. I didn’t want to go in, but I had no choice. So in we went.
• • •
The auditorium was something like 95 degrees. It was hot with human bodies, of which there were many. There were a few people singing and dancing and clapping. Most everyone else sat stiff in their chairs, yawning and staring down below with neutral expressions on their dopey faces.
Yes, and they stared below, and not ahead, because the balcony hovered over the stage. It was at least thirty feet off the ground, and filled with rows and rows of empty seats. Below was a second balcony and finally the show floor, which had dozens of foldable seats arranged in neat rows before the stage.
And on the stage were The Gourds. There was a round gentleman playing a mandolin, and an old guy with a guitar, and another old guy with a bass—and a drummer and a keyboardist. They were rocking out the best they could, which was fair enough. Everyone seated in general admission that had gray or graying hair seemed to enjoy their rockabilly noise. Chantal and I looked at each other. We laughed. The Gourds were pretty bad.
They played what seemed like seven songs—but it could have been twelve. We’d come in mid-set, too, so surely the crowd had grown tired of their rock-influenced Christmas songs. Every time a song would end, the bassist would say the words “another” and “Christmas” and “song”, and there we were, listening to “another Christmas song.” The only one I remember was about how The Rolling Stones had never written a Christmas song.
And really, who gives a shit if they haven’t?
• • •
“We’ve got one more for you,” said someone, I don’t remember who. They ended up playing two more songs. The announcer from KGSR stood on the side of the stage with a set of white notecards in his hand. He tapped his foot to the music. He seemed anxious. He wanted The Gourds to stop playing just as much as we did.
Finally they left. They bowed. I clapped. I respected them, but wanted them to go away. I wanted Dawes to come out as soon as possible. Most of all I wanted to stop sweating so damn much. It was sweltering in that room. I felt claustrophobic and weird.
The man from KGSR stepped out on stage. With him was a woman in a black dress and white tights. Chantal turned to me: “God, white tights? Really?”
They talked about their radio station for ten minutes. They reminded us at least a half-dozen times that the show we were watching was absolutely free. “You paid zero dollars for this show, ladies and gentleman.” Yeah, okay.
And then they left, and everyone was happy again. A swarm of roadies descended upon the stage and picked it clean. They removed all of The Gourds’ equipment, and we thanked them silently for that. They began setting up for Givers, who were to perform next.
As it turned out, Givers required an unusual setup. There was a small drum set and a big drum set. There was a xylophone. I caught sight of a ukulele. Whatever they had planned, it was certainly going to be fucked up. It was going to be great.
• • •
Givers ended up being nuts. The guitarist yipped and hollered like a psychopath. He jumped up and down and shook his head and danced. There was a woman in the band, and she was great. She had a beautiful voice. And it was she, I found out, who needed to be stationed behind the small drum set and the xylophone. It was she who played the ukulele. I fell in love with her over the span of six or seven songs. At one point she head-banged and danced so fervently that her headband flew off and her long, long hair came down, draping her face with brown-golden locks that I wanted to run my hands through, as long as that wouldn’t be creepy to her. And then I fell in love with her some more.
Chantal pulled me in close. She put her mouth up to my ear so I could hear her. “I want to marry her,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said, “me too.”
• • •
Matt Kearney was boring. He and another guitarist played some boring songs about love, or whatever. The only funny part was when Matt insulted one of the corporate sponsors. I thought that was funny as hell.
I think I fell asleep for the rest.
• • •
Chantal made eye-contact with her friend Carley, who was seated in the front row of the balcony with an architect named Peter. After some mouthing back and forth, and hand motions which told us we should move, we moved. We sat down next to Carley and Peter. I waved to Carley and shook Peter’s hand. He did his best to give me a firm handshake. He did the manly double-pump. I didn’t play that game. I just gave him a regular, medium-strength shake that lasted half a second. I could tell he wanted more, but that’s all I gave him.
I stood up. “Excuse me,” I said. I walked up twenty stairs and asked an usher where the restrooms were. He pointed toward a wall and mumbled some directions. I thanked him and went in the complete opposite direction he’d been pointing. I found the restroom in no time.
Inside there were dozens of men eager to rid themselves of all the beer they had drunk. I stood in line and waited to use a urinal. When it was my turn, I did whatever it is I had to do. I got rid of all the water in me.
On my way back to Chantal and Carley and Peter, I stopped by a large window and looked out at Austin. I reminded myself it was home. Then I reminded myself I sounded foolish telling myself that. I called myself a dope. I walked away.
I returned to my friends. All I’d missed was the between-show roadie set-up. Something big was about to happen. I could feel it down below. I was about to implode. And then something boring happened again.
• • •
The radio announcers came back on stage. They thanked the sponsors, and reminded us once again that the show was free, and that we should all bow down and worship Texas Music Water and Twin Liquors and The Salt Lick and so on.
A woman behind us turned to her friend: “Who the hell wears white tights?”
Dawes was announced. They came out on stage. Taylor Goldsmith was cute as a button. He was wearing little man clothes on his little man body. I wanted to hug him and tie his shoes for him. I wanted to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I wanted to kiss him and put him on a school bus.
Then he picked up a white electric guitar and became my hero.
“Hey, how is everyone doing?” he said. “We’re Dawes.”
• • •
They opened with “Fire Away”—and then immediately drifted into “If I Wanted Someone”. I kept praying that they would play “Love Is All I Am” or “So Well”, but song after song went by, and still there was no sign of my favorite Dawes songs. I wasn’t sad, though. I just wanted to jump into Taylor’s arms.
Taylor’s voice began to give out during “When My Time Comes”. It shook and wavered. He sounded hoarse and breathless.
“I think my voice is telling me to quit,” he said. “But I wanna keep singing!”
So he sang. He sang his little heart out. It was beautiful.
• • •
They played both album closers—”A Little Bit of Everything” and then “Peace in the Valley”. There was a ten-minute breakdown during “Valley”, and every musician was given time to shine—except the bassist, who seemed like he didn’t really want to be anywhere at all. He was my brother in spirit because of that.
And then they left the stage. They put down their instruments and exited to the right. The announcers came back out, and we were once again assaulted by the blinding white tights. She said something dumb, and then the man with her said something dumb, too, and then they had both said something dumb.
“Dawes is going to play us one more song,” said the man-announcer, ruining the mystique of the encore.
They played “How Far We’ve Come,” which is their worst song. The drummer sang. I apologized to Chantal.
As soon as they left the stage the second time, everyone began to flood out the exits. No one wanted to hear announcer-man and white-tights-woman open their mouths again.
Chantal and I did our part. We ignored another shout-out to Texas Music Water—whatever the hell that was—and fled down what I assumed was a secret stairwell. It had been pointed out to us by a friendly and possibly shady usher.
Back on Willie Nelson Blvd., Chantal scolded me for the ten-degree drop in temperature.
We crossed the street. We unlocked our bicycles. We got on them and rode in the direction of home. The wind whipped around my body and easily pierced the henley I had on.
“I’m fucking cold,” I said. Chantal turned around and scrunched her face up.
“And it’s all your fault.”