Thursday, August 4, 2011

Live: Alison Krauss & Union Station w/ Dawes, 8/2/11 at The Beacon Theatre, NYC

The evening began with an inspired and all too abbreviated 30ish-minute set from Dawes. I discovered this band this year after getting turned onto their excellent debut, North Hills by a good friend. The group has steadily been building their following the old fashioned way, by lots of touring and word of mouth. Their second album, Nothing Is Wrong, continues in the path of there previous work, maintaining their focus on quality songwriting while balancing the tunes with sharp and insightful lyrics.

The group started their 5-song set off strongly with the steady chug of "How Far We've Come" and dug deep into the slower "So Well". Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith declared that their set was the band's first time playing in a theater as large as The Beacon and then without taking too much time to soak in the moment for himself and his band mates, they unraveled another new number, "Moon In The Water".

Although their performance was brief, Dawes successfully owned their moment on stage and made quite a lasting impact on the crowd in attendance. The band genuinely seemed excited, thanking the evening's headliners and the audience of the mostly-filled venue before launching into their final two cuts of the set.  "A Little Bit Of Everything" ofered equal parts of Goldsmith's humor and sincerity, while the fan favorite and propulsive rocker from their debut record, "When My Time Comes", really opened the band's sound up and it roared over the floor and up through the double balconies of The Beacon.

The band beamed and earnestly performed a great set. This was undeniably proven when Mr. Goldsmith Taylor announced that the guys would be out at the merch table during the intermission. As luck would have it, I later caught a glimpse of the boys bombarded by a twisting line of new fans, record buyers, and autograph seekers as I made my way to the restroom. The line remained just as long while I made my way back to my seat with a beer, only minutes before the headliners were to take the stage. I'm looking forward to catching them in October when they return to Manhattan on their co-headlining tour with Blitzen Trapper.

Following a brief intermission break, the house lights dimmed and Alison Krauss and Union Station took the stage. The artists delivered an expansive, career-spanning performance that struck a masterful balance between the sweet and heartfelt vocals of Ms. Krauss and the earthy and masterful performances by Union Station.

Krauss led the way, by gently easing the crowd into the title track from their new record, "Paper Airplane", while Dan Tyminski's baritone filled the theatre next with the powerful vocal of "Dust Bowl Children". It was this trend that would carry AKUS through the rest of the night, guiding the crowd between graceful ballads and fiery bluegrass-scorched numbers.

Next up was two crowd-pleasing favorites from the New Favorite album with a new tune seamlessly woven in between them. "Daylight" came first, followed by newcomer "Sinking Stone", only to lead to the classic "Let Me Touch You For Awhile". For fans of Krauss' vocal performances it was a moving and stirring set by the singer, only to be matched by the tasteful and deliberate instrumentation of Union Station. It was only the first of many impressive strings of heartfelt songwriting and sophisticated musicianship on display throughout the night. Other Kruass-led highlights included "Baby Now that I've Found You", "Every Time You Say Goodybye", "Green Pastures", and "Dimming of The Day".

Union Station added their own abundance of collective goods to the evening as well, taking their own turns at the spotlight. "Rain Please Go Away", "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn", "Wild Bill Jones", "Bonita and Bill Butler", and the solo performance my master dobro player Jerry Douglas were all rousing. It all seemed to peak for the crowd when AKUS busted out with the O Brother favorite led by Dan Tyminski's now legendary vocal performance, "Man of Constant Sorrow". The tune got the house clapping and singing. A true highlight for everyone.

For the encore of the evening, the group slowly gathered themselves around a single microphone on the far left of the stage, to perform some final selections. This intimate collection kicked off with "The Smile On Your Face", which led into "When You Say Nothing At All", and peaked with a standout performance of the spiritual also popularized by O Brother, "Down To The River To Pray". "Your Long Journey" and There Is A Reason" closed the set on a lasting note.

Watching and listening to AKUS throughout the evening, it was hard to not be in awe of the brilliant musicianship, as well as the group's finely-honed attention to detail within the arrangements. The masterful performances by Union Station clearly emphasized the unit's deep respect for traditional string music, while Ms. Krauss carefully added just enough of a pop sensibility to charm the room, and draw the crowd deep into each tune. For me personally, my favorite aspect of the show was the variety found throughout the evening's repertoire. The band's flexibility kept the night's song cycle exciting and rewarding.

AKUS Set list:

Paper Airplane
Dust Bowl Children
Sinking Stone
Let Me Touch You For Awhile
Ghost in This House
Baby, Now That I Found You
Rain Please Go Away
Sawing On The Strings
Wild Bill Jones
Every Time You Say Goodbye
Jerry Douglas solo
Green Pastures
The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn
Dimming Of The Day
Bonita and Bill Butler
Miles To Go
Man of Constant Sorrow
Any Old Time
Oh, Atlanta
The Smile On Your Face
When You Say Nothing At All
Down To the River To Pray
Your Long Journey
There Is A Reason

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