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The Dunwells w/ Jenn Grinels @ Shank Hall

Aug. 5, 2012

Aug. 7, 2012
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English pop quintet and family The Dunwells proved that blood ties make for a solid performance as they harmonized their way through their first Milwaukee show at Shank Hall Sunday night.

Opener and California native Jenn Grinels never required a pick as her fingers skillfully strummed and slapped her acoustic guitar while her musical theater origins shone through her jazzy alto voice. Although she spoke shyly at first, Grinels quickly warmed up to what she called her "small but mighty" audience, telling thorough and humorous stories that added charm to songs like the stripped down, sentimental ballad "Can't Stay Here" and the scathing country rocker "No Better." Not once did her chats detract from her pitch-perfect, powerhouse vocal performance.

The Dunwells took the stage with goose bump-inducing four-part harmonies on their inspiring anthem "Blind Sighted Faith," followed immediately by the darker, boot-knocking "Hand That Feeds." The men were clearly bashful in their sparse talk between songs, but their performance didn't show it. While grinning and goofily dancing, bassist Rob Clayton impressively skipped his hands across his instrument on the complex riffs of faster tracks like the smoky "Spin." Vocalist and keyboardist David Dunwell stomped and leaned like Joe Cocker throughout much of the set.

After the brooding, eerie chorus of "Perfect Timing" and the thundering drum toms of the earthy "Goodnight My City," lead guitarist Dave Hanson showed off his bluesy riffs on the sweeter "So Beautiful." Seemingly the mellowest of the group, Hanson kept his eyes closed and contorted his face in unison with his playing, feeling his way through each lick.

The night's biggest breath of fresh air came in with the short, stripped down "Only Me," on which drummer Jonny Lamb sat behind his kit and softly sang lead. The goose bump harmonies returned at each chorus, and Hanson peppered in a smooth electric solo as Lamb subtly added a jazzy drum beat.

The only lags in the night's set were the less dynamic country sleepers "Borrow Me," "Elizabeth" and "In the Moment," but they smartly spaced out the faster tracks and brought a noticeable calm to the energized audience. Shining in between this series of songs was a delicate yet powerful cover of "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap. The men let their English accents thicken on this track, doing a five-part call-and-answer vocal dance and singing harmonies sharp enough to emulate the chilling vocal effects for which Heap is known.

Near the end of the set, Hanson gave another scorching solo on the band's album closer and the darkest song in the set "Oh Lord," which opened and closed with an eerie, tip-toeing piano melody and hushed cymbal beat. Vocalist and guitarist Joe Dunwell finally stood out as he sang soulful falsetto trills during the song's quieter moments.

Any previous timidity was shed at the end of the evening as all five members cracked smiles and danced shamelessly on their biggest hit "I Could Be a King," which began with one acoustic guitar and quickly swelled into full-band folk rock lined with an anxious banjo riff. The small audience were on their feet cheering just before they received an unexpected but welcome encore in the form of the perfect sendoff tune "Follow the Road," which brought The Dunwells a second and well-deserved standing ovation.


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