Anderson East has been performing as a musician since he was in the seventh grade so it’s unfair to call him the new kid on the block. But he might be best know for dating Miranda Lambert for over two years. That’s unfortunate but it won’t last for long. He’s got talent and he’s still young (30). With his marvelous voice, charm, energy and soul, he’ll keep building his fan base.
East’s last album Encore was produced by Dave Cobb (Isbell, Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Sturgill Simpson). Cobb is known for falling in love with a voice and then producing albums that stay true to the artists vocals and lyrics. Anderson East was the first person that Cobb wanted to sign when he got his own impression, Low Country Sound. He did just that.
During his short festival set, East switched easily between blues and country but the crowd favorite was East’s poppy hit “Girlfriend,” written by East, Cobb, and Avicii. This isn’t deep songwriting by any means, “I ain’t gonna say I’m sorry now / I think I’m in love with your girlfriend.” But it sure is fun. I’m a happily married mom. I should be thinking, “Put it back in your pants dude; you leave that nice young man’s woman alone.” But no, the song has so much engaging swagger, I’m actually cheering for ‘that guy’. My thoughts are more like, “Go get her slugger.” Seriously, I think these gravelly, raspy voices just make everyone crazy.
If anyone was ever born to cover another singer, it’s Anderson East covering Rod Stewart. At the risk of being repetitive, his voice was a perfect match for “Do You Think I’m Sexy.” I would even go so far as to say that I prefer East’s soulful rendition. The crowd was even dancing around despite the sweltering heat index.
East’s set was exactly why I love the Block Party: I’ve never seen him before, but I can’t wait for him to come back.
If you haven’t seen Dawes live and you’re offered the opportunity- run, don’t walk. In my opinion, they are one of the best live bands touring right now. Usually, after I see a show I’m satiated for awhile, but not with these guys. At the end of a concert, I’m thinking, “No. Don’t go. When are you coming back?”
I’m not entirely sure how Taylor Goldsmith leaves his lovely new home that he recently renovated with wife Mandy Moore; but leave he does. No one seems more excited to be on stage than Mr. Goldsmith. He obviously LOVES his job.
If asked to describe Dawes, one could say that they hear influences of Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Elvis Costello, the Band, Eagles, with maybe a pinch of Bruce Hornsby. Which is to say, their music has a timeless quality. It could have come straight out of Laurel Canyon in the 70’s. It will still be around thirty years from now. They have a sound all their own. I’ve heard it described as Americana soul. Sounds about right. Songs have a California vibe but not in a pretty-people, ocean kind of a way. It’s more a feeling; that California ‘chill’. When I listen to Dawes, I feel a loosening around my edges.
A Dawes crowd is usually a mixed bag of hippie kids, 50 year-old ‘bros’ (who will know every single word to every single song), divorced thirty somethings on computer dates, families with their kids, and a few aspiring singer-songwriters who stare up at Goldsmith like he’s their god. No matter who you are, you will feel comfortable.
The band is made up of brothers, Taylor (guitar & vocals) and Griffin (drums) Goldsmith, Lee Pardini (keyboards), and Wylie Gelber (bass). They were joined by touring guitarist Treavor Menear who is an excellent addition. Lyrics are emotionally intelligent and witty without seeming sarcastic. Taylor is a sensitive poet; a little neurotic at times but in a reasonable way. Songs are relatable, sometimes all too. His voice is pitch perfect, even live. Griffin is an engrossing percussionist with his blond, shaggy hair and myriad of faces. His harmonies wrap around his brother’s voice (kind of like the Wilson brothers in their Trip Shakespeare days). His style is subdued and deliberate. He weaves percussion into the story rather than drumming on top of it. Gelber is a thumb plucker and adds that warm bass layer that is so vital for a good song. Pardini’s keyboard on “A Little Bit of Everything” is particularly fantastic but everything he does is stellar.
Goldsmith’s favorite guitar is an old Telecaster made from Fender parts with 60 year old technology. Some musicians play old guitars because they like the sound. I believe this to be true here; but I think nostalgia might even play a bigger part.
Another cool thing about Goldsmith’s gear is that his friend, Jonny Fritz, hand makes some of his guitar straps. In fact, Fritz started his business working in Taylor’s garage. (Side note, Jenny Lewis, Flea, and Dan Auerbach all have Fritz straps.) He also makes belts and dog collars if you are interested. (Not sponsored.)
The Dawes set included everyone’s favorites, except mine, “Quiter” (no biggie, I was happy) and a huge fan favorite, “Right On Time,” which really upset the guy next to us.
They opened with “Feed the Fire.” It has a relatively slow start that allows them to come out on stage one by one and then build up energy for when Goldsmith bounds onto the stage and jumps in after checking out the crowd. “Tradin’ where I’m at for some future destination / Workin’ for attention I’ll eventually resent / Tyrin’ to ignore some of the darker implications / Of smilin’ for the camera with my hands in wet cement.” Not only is it the perfect first song, it’s a wonderful commentary on today’s social media, cell-phone obsessed world (guilty as charged).
My favorite part of a Dawes concert is when the crowd joins in with “When My Time Comes.” This festival proved no exception. The song has amazing harmonies and it makes for a fun sing-a-long. It also has one of my all-time favorite lyrics, “You can stare into the abyss / But it’s staring right back.” This is based on a Nietzsche quote where he warns…
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
The set ended with another fantastic song, “All Your Favorite Bands.”
I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be
I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together
Sung by someone else, this could seem earnestly sappy, but Goldsmith makes it work. It comes off as a genuine expression of friendship/love. And it’s a perfect ending to a great set.
Orson Welles once wrote, “We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There’s a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.” Welles may as well have been writing about Kacey Musgraves. She is this person of contradictions thriving in the in between; a country girl from east Texas who straddles the pop charts, looks like a sweet country diva but has a mouth like a sailor, plays honky tonk guitar, and has a sleek, angelic, polished voice- and all this wraps around poetically tight lyrics that tell titanic truths.
Kacey Musgraves headlined the line up at the Great Clips stage on night one of the 25th anniversary of the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis. We didn’t make it there in time to hear/see her husband, Ruston Kelly, who opened the evening. He was followed by Anderson East, and then Dawes. Musgraves brought it home. Kind of a killer lineup.
I came slowly to Kacey Musgraves. It took me awhile to warm up to her rather cold performance demeanor and perfect vocals. She still doesn’t seem totally comfortable on stage. There’s a lot of hair playing and touching her ear monitor. I tend toward the gritty, raspy commanding voices. Musgraves was, at first, a little precious for me. But then I dug in deeper to her music, listening closely to her lyrics to see what all the fuss was about.
Ahhhhhh, now I get it. She’s a lyrical genius. And brutally honest. And quite witty. Kind of an amazing person. When you listen to the words- the voice and the more aloof demeanor begin to make sense. It’s understated. She never sounds cute or corny. No runs, vibrato or painful head voice. It’s this matter-of-fact delivery that draws you in and keeps you there. It’s almost a meditation. Her voice is as truthful as the lyrics. No frosting. You quickly develop a taste for it, and then want more.
She opened her evening from the back of the stage with one of my favorites, “Slow Burn.” “Texas is hot, I can be cold / Grandma cried when I pierced my nose.” See, even Musgraves admits she’s a little cold and she likes it like this. And then, “Old soul, waiting my turn/I know a few things, but I still got a lot to learn / So I’m alright with a slow burn…” I think we’re all good with a gentle reminder to chill out. We don’t know everything. Take our time. Learn something. Last year, Rolling Stone called “Slow Burn” the song of the summer.
She followed with a crowd favorite, “Wonder Woman.” She sings, “I can show you strong, I can fight for you / I can try to move mountains if you want me to / But, baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman / I don’t know how to lasso the love out of you.” And a bit later, “Don’t you know I’m only human? / And if I let you down, I don’t mean to / All I need’s a place to land / I don’t need a Superman to win my lovin’.” This a tender, realistic love song. We need more of these.
Musgraves covered everything off of her latest Grammy award winning album, Golden Hour, and hit a few more favorites off her other albums. Her only cover was a lovely rendition of the Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize.” She first covered this song at one of the larger festivals, Bonnaroo. It blew up on social media, including a post by the Lips own Wayne Coyne who wrote, “Yesssss!!!!! We love you @spaceykacey.” This was one of the highlights of the evening and I believe my husband Matt’s mouth hung open the whole song. It really is one of the most special live performance moments that I’ve witnessed. It was beautiful.
The evening ended with another of my Musgrave favorites, “High Horse.” We obviously have something in common- a love of disco. Thank you Bee Gees. She sings, “Everyone knows someone that kills the buzz / Every time they open up their mouth.” She tells her obnoxious, stuck-up lover to “Giddy-Up / And ride straight out of this town.” If this isn’t an anthem for every heart broken fifteen-year-old out there, I don’t know what is.
When asked who she thinks are the most influential women in country music, Musgraves named Bobbie Gentry as one of five. “I love Bobbie Gentry. You don’t hear much about her or as much as you should. She was one of the few brunettes around and she sang about real conversational, almost dark stuff.” Musgraves even looks a lot like Bobbie Gentry. But if influence means “having the capacity to effect change on someone’s character or behavior,” then let’s hope that Kacey is around for a long time. Look at her fans. They know every word. We could all use influence that encourages us to be who our authentic selves and make no apologies, that encourages inclusive attitudes, and that shows us what being your best creative self can look like. I may have been slow to appreciate Ms. Musgraves, but appreciate her I do.
Five Things You Might Not Have Known About Kacey Musgraves:
- Kacey began songwriting at age 8. Her first song was called “Notice Me” and was written for her elementary school graduation
- An independent label, Triple Pop, signed Musgraves in 2008
- She first learned to play the Mandolin and then started guitar lessons at 12 which she says is the “best thing that ever happened” to her.
- Musgraves co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart.”
- Kacey Musgraves was at the airport when she first heard the ’emo-screamo’ band Hawthorne’s cover of her song “Butterflies” on their two song cover release, Dads of Sad. She immediately tweeted out, “GUYS I’M FREAKING OUT. I just cried at the airport.” Later, she tweeted again, “If you would have told my emo ass high school self this would happen one day, I would have given you the finger and ran away in my black chucks.”