When Mandy Moore headlined Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium Sunday night, it might have seemed to some attentive audience members as if some trickery was going on. The singer-actress tours with her husband, Taylor Goldsmith, the frontman of the group Dawes, playing alongside her every night. He was visibly MIA at the outset… but the rocker’s very recognizable harmony vocals and lead guitar playing were still in evidence.
As the crowd soon learned, Goldsmith was not sitting the show out in favor of a backing track. He was alone in a dressing room backstage, diagnosed with COVID, keeping his quarantined distance from one and all, and fulfilling all his duties through the 90-minute show through the miracle of some very, very, very long cords.
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While it’s not the first time a concert has gone down with one or more of the musicians tucked out of sight, it’s hard for anyone involved to think of a comparable instance in which a key band who’s supposed to be in the spotlight took part from another part of the building, in what amounted to a makeshift isolation booth.
“It’s funny, because when the show starts, we normally just walk on stage and the song starts, and Mandy doesn’t immediately speak to the audience,” Goldsmith tells Variety. “In the first song, I took a long outro solo, and no one knew what was going on at that point. I assume they probably thought it was pretty wild to be looking up on stage and being like, ‘I don’t hear anyone playing that solo with all those high notes.’ But right after the first song, Mandy welcomed everybody and was like, ‘By the way, if you were wondering where that solo came from…’ and put it all out on the table. I was able to say ‘hi’ from the back, and everyone laughed.”
The ease with which they pulled it off belied a panic that had set in a day earlier when Goldsmith tested positive.
“We had played Pittsburgh two nights before and I didn’t know I had it then, if I did,” he recalls. “The next day, my wife had a press thing where everyone was tested, and that’s when I found out and we all started scrambling. Do we try to find a sub? Do they do without me? Do we postpone? Which all felt just too heartbreaking, or just wouldn’t work. It was Mandy’s first show at the Ryman” a historic, memorable moment in any performers’s career — “and I don’t think she wanted to be stressed about like some sub they got last-minute. So as we went through options, it just felt like this is the way to go. Our agent knows the folks at the Ryman and presented this plan to ’em so that everything was on the up and up, and they approved it.”
As far as what pulling it off entailed: “Our front-of-house guy left my amp on stage so that the band could feel the amp as if it’s there, and then brought the wiring back. Normally we have in-ear monitors with a radio frequency or something, but because I was a little bit further away, they just had a long, long cord to plug in my ears, so I didn’t have any signal issues. And then I had to tech my own guitars, tuning them up and changing ’em between songs without any help. I thought, ‘Oh man, at some point I’m gonna kick some cord loose and it’s gonna be a real problem.’ But the whole show went off and it was great.”
But it’s not the kind of show that uses a click track to keep everyone in line. How to accomplish a set that actually relies on old-fashioned visual cues between players? Prior to the show, he and the players — who include his brother, Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith — went through each song from their now-separate locations, figuring out the moments that require them to look at one another and figuring out how to make up for those blind spots.
“We went through song by song and said, “Is there anything in this one? Anything in this one?’ Even if you are in an iso booth in making a record, you’re gonna hear someone count off and they can mute that later. But this is a live show, with moments where we would all kind of like hit a chord and let it ring out, and then four beats later come crashing back in. Normally I’m watching my brother Griffin like a hawk, to make sure that I’m feeling it where he’s feeling it. There were little things that we worked out where he’s like, ‘I’ll do this fill here, so you know that’s where my 4 is,’ or other stuff like that that we did have to actually plan out, certain moments in the show that have sort of like a nebulous tempo, that we had to go over a few times with no way to give cues.”
Needless to say, there was no bow-taking on his part. “I just popped out right afterwards. I put the guitar down and walked out the back entrance [into the Ryman’s famos alley]. So no one saw me. I didn’t cross paths with anybody. It was perfect.”
As for how it felt personally for him and Moore: “She’s so sweet,” Goldsmith says. “Her main thing was just like, ‘I’m at the Ryman. I want to share that with you. I want to be on the same stage as you.’ So like it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, this is just absolutely great.’ It was definitely like: ‘This is bittersweet.’ We were making the most out of something, but it’s not what she would’ve wanted, or me. I would’ve much preferred just not testing positive for COVID and just had it all be the same [as a normal show].”
And yet, there was a lot of laughter involved along the way, too, Goldsmith says, as they realized in sound check that they were making it work.
“It worked that one time,” he says. “If it was a whole tour, I don’t know. Eventually it’d be like, ‘Wait, I came to see someone’ — I would imagine like that wouldn’t work forever. But as a novelty, as a one-time-only thing, to just make sure we got it done, I think the audience liked it, and we really got a kick out of it. It’s something that makes for its own experience.”
Moore’s “This Is Us” fellow cast member Chrissy Metz was on hand for the show, and sent her appreciation along to Goldsmith on Instagram, writing, “Missed seeing you shred on stage, but the show was perfection.”
Goldsmith says that he is mostly asymptomatic after experiencing only a headache and sore throat around the time of his diagnosis a few days ago, and he expects to no longer be the invisible man when her tour dates resume July 6 in Dallas. Moore and band have been on the road supporting her recent “In Real Life” album, with the tour’s closing dates set for July 22 at the Fonda in L.A. and the Newport Folk Festival July 24. After that, it’s Dawes’ own shows Goldsmith will be hoping to keep a clean bill of health for, as the band’s “Misadventures of Doomscroller” album comes out July 22, with a U.S. tour starting August 1.
Sad missing out on the "guitarmony" as she said… but despite that they sure made it work. So awesome how much not only she but also the audience were clearly so into it. (Her quip about Walgreens/CVS vs Whole Foods playlists cracked me up). 😂🎶
— Melissa. (@whyamiontwltter) June 26, 2022
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