(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Live Review: The Dunwells at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 20th February 2013

By on Thursday, 28th February 2013 at 2:00 pm

It’s always a good sign when I go to a gig for an unfamiliar band and then spend the next day singing their songs over and over in my head. Thus it was with the Dunwells, a quintet from Leeds currently making their second sweep through America. Their album ‘Blind Sighted Faith’ was released a year ago, now on Concord Music Group, and they are making the rounds at loads of radio stations and small venues, truly the only way to get a foothold on the American music market. I walked into the venue for my interview with them to hear them soundchecking vocals with ‘Folding Stars’ from Biffy Clyro. A broad smile spread across my face, I was going to like these guys!

The Dunwells Washington 2

Showcasing their three lead singers with their first three songs, you knew it was going to be a remarkable show. Although David Dunwell introduced Jonny Lamb their singing drummer as being “very rare, like pixies”, I doubt anyone would mistake him for a woodland nymph, but I admire any drummer who can take the lead on vocals while playing. It’s quite a feat. They built a strong set, introducing their trademark soaring harmonies with the title track from ‘Blind Sighted Faith’. Ably switching between David Dunwell, Lamb and David’s brother Joe, the songs were poignant with their heartfelt lyrics flowing right through you: “You’re not supposed to miss what was never yours / you don’t have to borrow me / ‘cause I’m yours, I’m yours to keep”. Incidentally, not many bands can pull off five-part harmonies, not many at all. But we were treated to a cover of Imogen Heap‘s ‘Hide and Seek’, with all five members standing at the front of the stage in perfect gorgeous harmony.

The Dunwells Washington 1

I see a lot of bands that fall into the folk/rock or singer/songwriter category, so I frankly feel a little silly referring to a guitar player as an ‘axeman’ because most of the players I see don’t rise to that level. Not so here. Dave Hanson was a standout guitar player playing proper solos and everything. That boy can play and rightful deserves the axeman moniker! During ‘I Want to Be’, Joe Dunwell was left alone on stage with his acoustic. The gorgeously simple rendition perfectly highlighted his powerful and flexible vocal capabilities.

The Dunwells Washington 3

The Dunwells’ live show is a straight up indie rock show and they gave us nearly their entire catalog including a few new tunes as well. While I can hear clear influences of American country music in their recorded work, that seems to melt away in the live show. Still, David Dunwell quipped that it felt strange to be an Englishman standing before a crowd of Americans professing to play a quite American instrument, the banjo.

I had spoken to the tour manager beforehand to learn that there was no support act. Hmmm, early night for me. But it was so worth it. Talking with some people at the front, a gaggle of fans had followed them down from their gig the previous night in Philadelphia, and was happy to wax poetic about their favourite band. And while not filled with a lot of raucous singalongs, the band sent everyone home soaring. I can see the ground swell of love for the band taking over. Next time they are in town, they will surely be at the next sized up venue. At the very last, Joe and David Dunwell acknowledged the thunderous applause as they concluded their set by proudly taking a step to center stage, to bow together as brothers. And then to stretch out the glorious moment, they ended on what they do best, the last few notes in perfect harmony.

After the cut: set list.

The Dunwells’ Set List:
Hand That Feeds
Blind Sighted faith
Perfect Timing
Good Night My City
Borrow Me
Dance with Me
In the Moment
I Want to Be
Hide and Seek (Imogen Heap cover)
Oh Lord
This Time
So Beautiful
I Could Be King
Follow the Road

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2 Responses

5:17 pm
19th March 2013

Or the review of @thedunwells @tgtf http://t.co/QebhF0E0YX #lazyorforgetful

[…] seen the Communion showcase in 2012. I was going in that direction for the Dunwells, who Cheryl saw and interviewed in Washington when I was in hospital the previous month with flu. I had looked […]

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