Editor's Note: This review was written by Jenny Block
Brett Dennen, Dawes Granada Theater May 7, 2011
Better than: Hula hooping in your front yard on the first day of summer vacation, sun in your face, knowing that your mom will call you in for grilled cheese and grape Kool Aid any minute.
While the stage was being set for Dennen, videos were played on a giant screen that hides the goings on. On a screen to the right hand side of the stage, Tweets with @granadatheater scrolled through.
"Brett dennen concert cancelled due to lack of people wearing (sic)Toms"
"You ever notice how hipsters don't dance they just awkwardly shuffle"
"If you could sing like Brett Dennen then I wouldn't flirt with the bartenders."
"I can't believe I'm tweeting to get on the screen at this venue."
"This must be what it feels like to be an oompah loompah."
"All ya'll hipster haters can suck my toms."
"Where's the lesbian section? It's hard to tell with this many hipsters in plaid and short hair."
"Dawes killed it."
At 9:15 p.m. on the dot, the lights went down and Dennen took the stage. I noticed for the first time that night that "Love yourself" is painted over the stage and it seems terribly apropos.
His signature red hair was even longer than I remember. He was barefoot and skinnier than I remembered too. It was like he lost his baby fat. He looked a little bit like an Indigo Girl, actually. Bare oversize bulbs hung from the ceiling, making the stage look more like a backyard party than a theater.
He opened with "Surprise, Surprise," dancing around the stage, all hips and Chubby Checker knees.
"How are ya?" he asked after the first number. When someone from the crowd yelled, "Good. How are you?"
He replied. "Very good. Thank you."
He wore black-rim glasses and looked more like a dreaded lab partner than a rock star. But the audience certainly treated him like the latter, and rightly so. The guy can sing. The guy can play. And the guy can write. He goes to a different place with every song. You can see it on his face. You can tell he crafted each song and they mean something to him.
The drummer looked like a schoolkid with his first drum set, banging the drums, mouth open. But he sure didn't sound like any schoolkid I've ever heard. Dennen played "San Francisco." I couldn't keep my eyes off his feet, dancing and playing on the floor, moving in a penguin-like shuffle side to side. The rest of the band was jamming too, feet tapping, heads nodding with the beat.
"Okay Dallas," Dennen said. "You feel like singing tonight? This one's easy. Na na na, Na na na na na na. That's my dog. Here we go."
Dennen has a distinctive voice, a cross between a teenage boy's changing voice and that of a folk singer circa 1965.
When feedback came over the speakers, he sang "What's with that feedback?" instead of "Here comes the comeback." Dennen played "She's Mine" and did his signature "dance like no one's watching" dance. He did that to every song, really. Then he started scatting and goofing around like we were all just hanging out jamming. The drummer started in on a downbeat and Dennen played "Must be Losing my Mind."
The crowd wasn't dancing so much as swaying or, I don't know, bopping maybe? Like a roomful of people all on a road trip listening to songs they really love on the radio. Dennen played "Closer to You" and then said to the crowd. "OK, we have a clap to teach ya. Dallas are you ready to clap? Can you do this?"
Dennen demonstrated and the crowd obliged happily. "OK, very good. Now put it to the music." He danced around the stage while the drummer played the beat and the band and the audience clapped as instructed. Dennen then broke into "Dancing at a Funeral."
The crowd cheered when he played just a few notes. They know. Dennen played "Ain't no Reason" and then "Sydney I'll come Running," acting out the lyrics as he played.
Then Dennen said to the crowd, "I want to thank Dawes for being the best band ever. I also want to thank them for being really great guys and easy to be around. I'm really excited for them and I hope you like them."
And again he played a few notes and the crowd cheered as he began to play "Darlin' Do Not Fear," after which Dennen introduced his backing band to the crowd and then played "World Keeps Turning."
Again Dennen stopped to talk to the crowd, "Thank you. I want to tell you that proceeds of the CDs that we sell tonight and on my online store are going to a charity called Invisible Children. I've done a lot of work with organizations that work with children, mostly in California. But Invisible Children helps kids in other countries who have basically been kidnapped and used as pawns. I'm really lucky to be working with this organization and hopefully you'll get a CD and get some more information back at the table. Had a great time playing for you Dallas."
The whole thing was more like a reading than a concert, a songwriter sharing his writing, you know, as opposed to putting on an act. I like a good act as much as the next girl, but I love watching a real musician do his thing, whatever that thing might be.
After playing "Makes You Crazy," he thanked the audience, leaving the stage at 10:32 and returning not even a minute later. He played "Make You Fall in Love With Me." There was something a teeny bit irresistible about the guy, especially when he started playing funky '70s, groovy, sexy wah-wah kind of stuff and did hip circles as he played, his invisible hula hoop spun around and around his waist.
Dennen and his band danced like you would if you moved the way the music made you feel rather than what looks cool or even acceptable. What he did was so far from cool that it was cool. Next up, "Blessed." Dennen did the grapevine, smiling and opening his arms to the crowd. By then, the crowd was dancing in earnest. If you can't love this kid you need to lighten up. Dennen grabbed a drumstick and started tapping away on what looked to be a metal water bottle. His drummer did a solo that left the crowd clapping and hooting and hollering.
At 10:53 he left the stage for good, racing after the drummer, pounding his back like kids rough-housing after school.
He's kinda weird. But I really kinda love him.
But earlier in the evening it was clear, the audience was not just waiting for Dennen. They were there for Dawes as well. "Sing along if you know it," the lead singer said to the crowd. Arms shot up in the sky in the old school "rock on" pose and sing they did. "You're on your own now," he said the next time the chorus came around, turning the mic to the audience, and it looked and sounded like every soul on the floor was singing along. Dawes commanded the stage like any featured act.
"We'll be out at the merch table. So, come by. I want to meet everybody and get on a first name basis. See you guys outside. We're Dawes."
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Personal Bias: I'd seen Brett Dennen in concert several years ago here in Dallas when he opened for John Mayer at what is now Gexa Energy Pavilion. (Formerly Superpages.com Center.) I won't lie. I dug his music before the show and dig it even more after having seen him in concert again.
By The Way: There were a bevy of camera guys and other miscellaneous film crew folks all over the Granada, inside and out. I couldn't get anyone to confirm the name of what they're filming and who it's for. But, rumor has it, it's a show for Bravo about dating/Dallas' most eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. They'll be here filming through the end of the month.
Random Note 1: Two girls in crocheted black tanks and tiny shorts step up to the bar with their own koozies for their Miller Lites in hand. I can't decide if that's brilliant or trashy. Maybe both.
Random Note 2: Some guy was smoking throughout the show a few feet from the stage in the center of the crowd on the main floor. Is that allowed?