Rawlings imports an element of surprise at Dawes’ recent concert in Santa Cruz
Remember when an encore was something a band had to earn? Most likely, you probably can’t. That’s because a standing ovation or a crowd calling for more, waiting in front of a stage while the rock star at hand walks off to the wings—oh so momentarily, has become a mundane ritual rather than a sign of rare, high regard. I often feel a sense of disappointment at the contrived nature of how show endings go off these days, wondering why bands end a set at all when they (and the rest of us) know that, whether or not anyone asks for it, they’ll pick up the mic and power through their amps for an additional few songs in straightforward form. Why bother walking offstage in the first place?
I can see the tombstone now: Encore as an element of surprise, may you R.I.P.
So, it was a pleasant refilling of the well-of-faith, when Los Angeles’ The Band-meets-Springsteen-meets-Billy Joel ensemble, Dawes, finished its recent set in town at The Crepe Place on Friday, Feb. 5, with a true show-stopper. In the middle of the emerging quartet’s stellar album closer “Peace in the Valley,” singer Taylor Goldsmith looked to the side stage and said to a hidden figure standing behind a towering speaker, “Come on out here!” Then, like some mystifying ninja cowboy, a grand Dave Rawlings—tall, lean, and sporting his five o’clock shadow and Stetson hat, jumped over the Crepe’s soundboard and partition to land smack in the middle of the Dawes boys. It was certainly a sight to be seen—and heard.
Rawlings, mesmerizing guitar flatpicker and partner of Gillian Welch, had just left The Catalyst where he’d performed his own sweet set as the Dave Rawlings Machine (yes, I am spoiled and was there, too) and had headed to The Crepe Place for this final action of the evening. In rare electric guitar form, usurping Goldsmith’s axe for a searing solo that raised the final song to new heights, Rawlings had us all—even those who were unaware of his imposing status in the alt-country world—united in riled-up allegiance. When Rawlings finished plunging into great musical depths with the rest of the band backing, Goldsmith resumed the mic to announce, “Dave Rawlings—a legend!”
Whether it was all premeditated or not, who knows—it didn’t feel like it, and that’s what matters. It was an electrifying finale that had me smiling like it was my first concert, and I was thankful for the injection of spontaneity that made this encore all the more worthwhile. If there were any skeptics in the sold out venue at the start of the night, by that last song and surprise cameo, Rawlings certainly had them sold.
I headed home to hit my pillow thinking I’d witnessed something truly special, texting enough people along the way to share the moment. And I thought to myself, ‘That’s how all show endings should leave you feeling.’