Our veterinarian told us that when he visits a friend’s house and they have a dog, he can’t just pat it on the head and sktritch behind its ears. He instinctively runs his hands down its side to check for bumps, pull up its gums to check the teeth, looks down into the ears. In short, the dog gets a quickie physical. If he ever asked for a cotton swab to get a stool sample, he’d probably be shown the door.

It was sort of like that last night for me as I attended a concert by Brett Dennen at Headliners Music Hall here in Louisville with my wife and daughter. No, I didn’t check his teeth or ask for a cotton swab, but I found myself doing the same things I’d done for 14 years as a writer and critic for The Louisville Music News: do a quick scan of the crowd to get an idea of how well the act did at the box office, note the venue’s atmosphere, gauge the audience’s reaction to the opening act (good response – it would be a fun show overall; no or lukewarm response – any moment now someone would yell out, “You suck!” and the hostility would set in). I kept reaching into my back pocket where I would keep my notebook and pen, but would instantly remind myself that I bought the ticket and I’m here to enjoy the show.

And enjoy it I did. But if you want to know what I thought, well. . .

Dawes, the LA-based opening act, brought in a thundering blend of old-school rhythm-and-blues with straight up bar-band rock-and-roll, all the while keeping the sound tight and snappy, which was a perfect warm-up for Dennen’s journey through power-pop, acoustic ballads, and Caribbean-tinged grooves from his latest release Loverboy (which this tour is supporting) and his earlier effort Hope for the Hopeless.  Both bands presented the kind of music you need for a picnic at the beach where everyone is sunned-up and dancing barefoot in the sand.

As I said, once a critic. . .

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