Robbie Robertson last played live with the full lineup of the Band when filming 1976’s The Last Waltz in San Francisco, and has rarely performed live since. But to promote his upcoming LP How to Become Clairvoyant, Robertson will make several appearances with an unexpected backing group: L.A. folk rockers Dawes.
So far, Robertson and Dawes are only planning television and possible festival gigs. Robertson first became familiar with the band when he needed a backup vocalist on some songs, including the new single “He Don’t Live Here No More.” His manager recommended Dawes frontman – and die-hard Band fan – Taylor Goldsmith.
“We were just kind of following the curiosity path,” Robertson tells Rolling Stone. “[My manager] came up with the idea of maybe working with them if I was going to do some TV things. We had a rehearsal a couple weeks ago in L.A. and ran over a few tunes, and it just felt pretty natural. They’re really good and they’re a band – it’s different than just getting a bunch of individual musicians and trying to make them click and blend. The guys are already in the blend, so that’s great. They’re all at the top of their game. I’m the one that’s a little rusty.”
Recording with Robertson was a lifelong dream for Goldsmith. His band became one of the only groups to play in the basement of Big Pink since Bob Dylan and the Band recorded there in the late Sixties. “I had never met Robbie, never thought I would,” he says. “I felt like the luckiest guy in the world when I got [the call] to go there. I was thinking, ‘Okay, I’m gonna sing background vocals on a song, Robbie’s not gonna be there.’ But I go and he’s there, and we hung out the whole time and he said he was really happy with what I did.”
They met again a few weeks ago when Robertson asked Dawes to meet him at a West L.A. rehearsal space to jam. “It was funny walking down the halls and hearing young metal bands and cover bands rehearsing, and we’re waiting for Robbie Robertson to arrive,” Goldsmith says. They jammed on three new Robertson tracks. “There were moments where he’d go into his guitar solos and I’d realize, ‘Whoa, nobody else plays guitar that way.'”
Dawes’ 2009 debut North Hills is full of rich harmonies and stripped-down instrumentation. Last year, when they played at Big Pink, Goldsmith told the small crowd his band wouldn’t exist without the space. “I got Music From Big Pink first,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Then once I got their  self-titled album, and it became one my top three records ever… The romance of the guy that writes the songs and the other guys sharing the lead vocals, you got to know each guy on a personal level through their performances.”
Robertson adds, “Some bands today have the experience of really working together and honing their craft. And other bands are very much like, ‘I just got a guitar for Christmas, let’s start a band.’ And you can hear the difference. You can hear a certain experience in some groups and it just feels grounded and when they play it’s such a strong unit. Even if they’re trying to not play as a strong unit there’s something that just works together – they know what works.”