Alex Casanoff has had to answer questions about being in Dawes ever since he left the band and started Harriet. It has to be a trying process. Granted, Dawes is a great band, but it’s not like Casanoff is Pete Best, the so-called fifth Beatle. He is an extremely talented songwriter, and that’s what he considers himself first and foremost. How does that equate into playing in a band that is dominated by Taylor Goldsmith and his overarching style? It doesn’t, so he left the band and started Harriet.
This was risky, but not really, if one considers oneself an artist. Not if you’re into making art and not being a trained monkey playing what you’re told to play. Not one person questions J. Tillman’s decision to leave Fleet Foxes at the peak of their powers and yet in every byline there is the mention of former member of Dawes Alex Casnoff. I interviewed him when I was at Best New Bands last year and he seemed to bristle at the mere mention of Dawes, not as if he bore them ill will but at the intonation that he nothing more than a former member.
I had the opportunity to see him Wednesday night at Brick and Mortar in San Francisco and those designations couldn’t be further from the truth. Alex Casnoff and the entire band are not only supremely affable they are a dynamic mix of rock, folk and even a little twinge of old school country (in the same vein as Gram Parsons would be). They were engaging with the audience, a packed one at that, and while their songs aren’t as familiar now as they will be once they get a bit more of a following.
They hit the stage a little after nine and the packed crowd surged forward as the band began belting out songs no one had ever heard before. They were playing stuff from an upcoming album that he said would be finished soon, he hoped. They played Indie rock and pop to sublime perfection, epitomizing the ethos of the Noise Pop Festival. This being my first time at Brick and Mortar I was excited to check it out. While I enjoyed the quaint surroundings it was sweltering and the way all the people were crammed in was simply not conducive to seeing such a great band.
Harriet’s sound continues to evolve in a way I wouldn’t have expected a year ago. There is a maturity that is starting to show within the confines of Casnoff’s creation and that maturity, in turn, is making the music so much better. The way he sounded Wednesday night and the way the band coalesced sounded like they’d been playing together for years. This is a great band in the making, whether or not they reach that point is entirely up to them, but when I see Casnoff rocking out like he’s Angus Young, hat and all, having fun, doing work and sounding great I get the feeling that the drive of this band will not stop until they’ve achieved greatness.