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Dawes and Lucius Collaborate Brilliantly in Joint Tour: Concert Review

Co-headlining tours are a dime a dozen (give or take hundreds of dollars in tacked-on fees). But actual collaboration on the road is another thing, with most bands too protective of their brands to hand over very much of their nightly set times to truly share someone else’s vision. In a joint road show, we cherish the moments when one band’s lead singer joins the other for an encore number or two. But actual merged identities? That’s something that happens in Altman or Kieslowski films, but rock ‘n’ roll shows, not so much.

Dawes and Lucius did a rare thing, then, in employing the buddy system for a tour that wrapped up Sunday with an almost-hometown show at Pappy + Harriet’s, out in the hills above and beyond Palm Springs. Although elaborate advanced notifications of how things would go down didn’t hurt, the Tag Team Tour moniker was a decent indication that this would not be your stock “we’ll alternate headlining status” kind of two-band bill, but that the two artists would be hunting for glory in the slight humility of a completely shared space for the better part of three hours. If you were a fan of either act, you’d have to have an appreciation for how these artists complemented one another. But if you happen to already recognize both of them as best-in-class examples of how strong old-fashioned rock virtues can continue to be in the 2020s, then this was a match made in heaven, or at least the highest parts of the high desert.

One of the great side effects of a setup like this is the chance to highlight cover songs more than a band might otherwise dare to, since their respective audiences are already primed not to be getting anything like a standard greatest-hits-plus-new-songs show. The joint set at Pappy + Harriet’s included five great ones, starting with the opening “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which the two women of Lucius used to sing every night, in a pre-pandemic era, as featured backup wailers for Roger Waters at the time. A lot of people who enjoyed that tour would harbor more doubts now about whether to buy tickets for a Waters show … so what a pleasure to have another shot at hearing their vocals on the signature Pink Floyd number, with Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith as the officiant. Lucius also brought in their longstanding version of the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band,” serious rearranged in every melodic way to create an interesting space for female harmonies, finding Goldsmith to be a good, complementary Deadhead as he traded lead guitar lines with slide specialist Trevor Menear.

For his part, Goldsmith, a self-acknowledged Warren Zevon nut, looked to be the driving force behind “Desperados Under the Eaves,” which always feels appropriate to play in Southern California, even if, in this Yucca Valley-adjacent setting, it must have been tempting to substitute the closing cries of “Look away, down Gower Avenue” with “Look away, down Highway 62.” (You could see a slight glimpse of Joshua trees behind the tour bus parked behind the Pappy’s stage, and those look even more like “crucified thieves” than the palm trees Zevon was referencing, don’t they?) Goldsmith also brought in Joni Mitchell’s “Come In From the Cold,” a song he humble-bragged he had nervously started playing for its originator on his first night attending a private Joni Jam. The closing “With a Little Help From My Friends” was very much the soulful Joe Cocker version, not Ringo’s peppy, faintly plaintive original. As good as Goldsmith was at approximating a prettier version of Cocker’s howl, you wouldn’t have wanted to hear his answers without Lucius forming a two-women choir to ask the “Do you need anybody?” questions.

Even with the show bookended and filled with that many historic outside choices, a 2-hour-and-50-minute running time (with a 20-minute intermission in the middle) still allowed ample time to amplify two of the best original catalogs in contemporary rock, with 10 Lucius songs and eight from Goldsmith’s pen. As long as you could live with the fact that this was a night where you were not going to get even a little bit of “A Little Bit of Everything” (Dawes having nine studio albums, to Lucius’ four, mandated some tougher choices about what to leave in or out, presumably), this was to be a show that surpassed even peak concerts you might have experienced with one artist or the other in the past.

Lucius and Dawes
Chris Willman/Variety

The question of “Why don’t other bands pair up this way?” is a valid one, but full critical transparency involves acknowledging that there might not be anybody else in music quite as naturally adaptable to this two-fer format at Lucius. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig front a band of that name, but they also go by the moniker even when they’re participating in other people’s projects — and as most of the music world knows by now, they do a lot of that. They are veritable RBI queens, to put it in baseball terms, providing a magic secret sauce on records by everyone from Brandi Carlile to Harry Styles to the Killers and the War on Drugs. The Lucius women are in some ways the modern-day equivalent of the singer spotlighted in “20 Feet From Stardom,” except that they’re brilliant singer-songwriters in their own right — honestly about as good in their frontwomen role as anyone they’ve ever shored up from behind. In pop history, you’d have a hard time finding anyone who constantly went back and forth between being utility players and sluggers with as much ease as Wolfe and Laessig. This Tag Team Tour, short as it was, gave them the ultimate opportunity to shine in both leading lady and supporting actress roles over the course of a night.

Lucius at Pappy & Harriet’s
Chris Willman/Variety

Goldsmith , for his part, also has a “plays well with others” reputation, extending from his cohort role in the “New Basement Tapes” Dylan-reclamation project a decade back to his participation in the handful of public Joni Jams (not to mention augmenting wife Mandy Moore’s musical endeavors). Even though he doesn’t do a lot of session work, he’d also be one of the journeyman guitar guys you might want sitting in for a solo on your record, if he did. So, in the immortal words of Marisa Tomei: “You blend.” There was also an aspect of twin-twins to this setup, as Laessig and Wolfe are kind of faux sisters who only sound like they have blood harmony, while Goldsmith and his drummer-brother Griffin can lay a claim on the real thing. Only once did the four of them line up at the front of the stage to sing in unison, as the two-part harmony of Lucius’ gentle “Two of Us on the Run” turned into four-part harmony once both Goldsmiths got involved. But the foursome-style strengths were implicit in the mix, even when Griffin stayed behind his kit.

The rest of the band consisted mostly of players who’ve been recently drafted into Dawes, as that band has gone through some changes, losing some of its historic lineup. There was no sense of any lack of continuity, though, in this ensemble playing some of the trickier classic Dawes material like they’d all been a unit for years, especially on a frenetic, deliciously bass-driven piece of pop-psycho-reggae like “Picture of a Man.” Instrumental fireworks aren’t always necessary for the Lucius material, although Menear’s slide guitar was a very welcome addition to last year’s one-off single, “Stranger Danger.” Some of the best Lucius songs are some of the starkest, especially “Tempest” and “Woman,” the latter of which got a stripped-down acoustic treatment, with not much to distract from one of the most dramatically beautiful songs of the last 10 years.

Although Goldsmith is animated during his guitar solos, Wolfe won honors for being the most literally jumpy on stage out at Pappy + Harriet’s. Was it end-of-tour energy, or trying-to-stave-off-frostbite energy? Perhaps a combination of both, but you couldn’t blame anyone on stage for instinctively doing what it took to heat things up. Things were frosty out in the high desert, as temperatures dipped into the mid- and low-40s, even before the sun went down about 45 minutes into the first set. “It’s 80!” Wolfe insisted toward the beginning of the show, manifesting a fantasy of more palatable performing conditions. They didn’t otherwise dwell on the weather too much, beyond Goldsmith introducing “Come In From the Cold” as “appropriately, for a night like tonight.” The crowd was prepared, anyway, with snapshots of the audience revealing more heads with ski caps than not. It was the end of a mere 10-city tour (albeit witnessed by a lot more via a Veeps livestream out of Colorado), one that could have certainly traversed a lot more territory… like, say, a proper L.A. gig, although a show of hands indicated that a large share of Angelenos had traveled out. If they can generate this much heat in a cold snap, it’d be worth an experiment to find out if they could be chill during a Los Angeles heat wave. We’d take any excuse, really, for a reprise of this superb, too short-lived tour.

Set list:

Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts I-IV (Pink Floyd cover)

Comes in Waves (Dawes song)

Tempest (Lucius song)

Go Home (Lucius song)

Fire Away (Dawes song)

Dusty Trails (Lucius song)

Me Especially (Dawes song)

Stranger Danger (Lucius song)

Desperados Under the Eaves (Warren Zevon cover)

When My Time Comes (Dawes song)

Genevieve (Lucius song)

Coime In From the Cold (Joni Mitchell cover)

Mad Love (Lucius song)

Million Dollar Bill (Middle Brother song)

Woman (Lucius song)

I Can’t Think About It Now (Dawes song)

Lucy (Lucius song)

Picture of a Man (Dawes song)

Uncle John’s Band (Grateful Dead cover)

Better Look Back (Lucius song)

All Your Favorite Bands (Dawes song)

Two of Us on the Run (Lucius song)

With a Little Help From My Friends (Beatles cover)

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