Article Published Saturday July 14, 2007.
Whenever an up-and-coming artist opens for someone more established, there’s always that make-or-break moment about halfway into the set when the audience either gets behind him or gets antsy for the set to end so the headliners can come on. The former option was definitely the case when L.A.-based rock quartet Simon Dawes opened for Incubus on July 12.
Now, I have to be honest, I may be a bit biased as a reviewer. I’ve known Simon Dawes’ lead singer Taylor Goldsmith since we did theater together back in high school and I’ve known guitarist Blake Mills since the good old days, when he used to tease me mercilessly back on the preschool playground. But, even if I had first heard of the band upon arrival at the Bowl the other night, as I’m sure many of my fellow concertgoers did, I would still have been incredibly impressed by its sound and stage presence.
Combining a classic rock vibe with folk, blues, arena rock and just a hint of pop, Simon Dawes has a sound that manages to be both fresh and familiar.
The band’s music could just as easily fit in with your parents’ collection of classic rock records as it could with the latest hard rocking lineup on KJEE 92.9 FM, and there is no question that this is due largely to the sheer playing prowess of Goldsmith and Mills, as well as bassist Wiley Gelber and interim drummer Darren Weiss.
Despite the recent loss of their long-time percussionist Stuart Johnson, the dynamic between the band-members on stage at the Bowl was infectious, to say the least. With so many big name acts coming through the venue this summer, it was nice to see a group for whom the experience of playing to a packed house is still fresh, and the sheer joy the boys exhibited during their set was incredible to behold, not to mention the Kodak moment when Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger joined the Simon Dawes boys onstage for a song.
Singing every word as though he really meant it, Goldsmith proved he is the consummate frontman, as he managed to connect with the audience, despite the fact that most people there had no idea who he was or what he was singing. Switching between singing and playing – he is also a talented pianist and keyboard player – Goldsmith managed to make his melodies soar over the slightly fuzzy sound quality coming out of the speakers and the overall din of perennially late Santa Barbarans filing into the Bowl.
Meanwhile, Mills proved his own musical merit with some very well-placed guitar solos that were impressive but accessible, displaying Mills’ mastery of the instrument while not veering so far into showing off that the audience would be lost. When Mills took the mic, he displayed a vocal talent that was pleasant, if unexpected. While his voice lacks the perfectly polished quality Goldsmith boasts, Mills’s vocals brought a depth of accessibility and emotion into the mix that complemented both his role in the band and his musical stylings on stage. And, when the two frontmen’s voices and instruments harmonized, the result was pure pop-rock perfection with just enough blues to give it edge and emotional grit.
Gelber, the youngest member of the band, also proved his musical mastery. Performing with the kind of confidence that takes most musicians decades to develop, Gelber’s hard-hitting bass lines and Weiss’s powerful percussion created the perfect hard rock background to Goldsmith and Mills’ meandering melodies, bringing a depth to the band’s sound that is often absent from the work of its contemporaries in the new L.A. pop rock scene. Overall, Simon Dawes performed like a group of seasoned professionals well beyond its years, proving a mastery of its sound and the stage that was nothing short of awesome to behold. It was a fitting opening band for a night of Incubus-style hard rock, and a welcome way to bring a whole new level of cool to the hot Santa Barbara night.
Unfortunately, when it came time for the headlining band to take the stage, Incubus waffled between moments of incredible greatness and moments of incredibly disappointing mediocrity. Despite starting off strong, playing the well-known “Wish You Were Here” within a few minutes of taking the stage and subsequently leading an impromptu sing-a-long with the entire audience, lead singer Brandon Boyd seemed to be doing the show by rote.
Sure, his dance moves managed to be both jerky and rhythmic at the same time, no small feat I’m sure, but otherwise he seemed to be performing the songs for performance’s sake and not truly embracing or evoking any emotional connection with what he was singing. There were times when Boyd seemed to snap out of his semi-comatose state and truly connect with the audience, but they were few, far between and usually motivated by either the performing of songs the audience already knew well or the incorporation of props, such as a couple of giant light-emitting gloves Boyd used to illuminate himself, Einziger and bassist Ben Kenney during the excellent instrumental and vocal solos that made “Pistola” one of the highlights of Incubus’ set.
Musically, the band was spot-on, providing the audience with an onstage sound that so closely matched up with what its studio work sounds like that it was both amazing and disconcerting. When Boyd played the shaker and the drums, he proved he is not just a pretty face or pretty voice, but is actually a talented percussionist in his own right. Einziger and Kenney created the kind of funk-infused jam rock perfection that only they can, and Jose Pasillas and Chris Kilmore added depth and dimension to the band’s sound, proving their own mastery of drums and turntables, respectively.
Musical highlights of the show included the aforementioned “Pistola;” the adolescent anthem “Drive,” on which Boyd and Einziger did a sort of faux-acoustic thing with a pared down sound and a handheld mic for the first half of the song; the blaring rock anthem “Megalomaniac” and a cover of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” of which Boyd said “This song is like pure sex… this song is like sex. You know, when you are 12 and you think of sex… I thought of that George Michael song.”
The band played mostly songs from its past two albums, with “Drive” and the encore song “The Warmth” as the only real representation of the work before the album that arguably made the band the stadium-ready superstar it is today, Morning View. It also ended the set a full half-hour before the official Bowl curfew of 10 p.m., leaving many fans grumbling for refunds, revenge, or at least a second encore. Despite the problems with the set though, the band did close on a high note, ending with a rendition of “Aqueous Transmission” accompanied by the climax of the gorgeous, color and texture-saturated light show that danced around them the entire set, that was as beautiful to hear as it was to watch.
In the end, Incubus jumped between powerful performances of past works and rote renditions of songs off the most recent release, proving that it has the potential to be earth and eardrum shatteringly good, even if their lack of enthusiasm during some songs and the ridiculously early end did not consistently prove it. Maybe the guys in Simon Dawes can remind them that next time, they should act like they appreciate just how lucky they are to be selling out the Santa Barbara Bowl.