Dr. Dog @ The Neptune Theatre, 02.14.12
It's hard to believe anyone would ever listen to Philadelphia sextet Dr. Dog's schizophrenic hodge-podge of a debut album (2001's Psychedelic Swamp) and have any sort of mind's-eye glimpse of the same band a decade later, functioning as a colorful, well-oiled classic pop machine and filling Seattle's Neptune Theatre on Valentine's Day. While you could definitely hear some of the band's early tendencies toward the haunting and creepy in the atmospheric corners of the mix, it was the band's propensity toward pure, unbridled sunshine that shone through and seemingly powered the Neptune.
Dr. Dog's strengths lie in their dogged (no pun intended) consistency to honing their sound. By making no apologies for having their feet firmly planted in the psychedelic pop sounds of the 1960's/70's, Dr. Dog have kept focus on constantly evolving as songwriters and avoiding the great trap of the current age; exploring sonics without having a song beneath all of those layers. None of this is to say that the band has lost sight of creative sonics by any means; their last two records (2010's Shame, Shame and the just-released Be The Void) are built on massive layers of immediate melodies and some of the richest Auto-Tune-free harmonies that the 21st century has seen thus far. The addition of auxiliary percussionist/organist/guitarist/tape loop-manipulator Dmitri Manos is especially helpful in a live setting, with Manos adding the occasional haunting atmospheric swell mid-song and just generally making the band's dense sound that much more massive.
Watching Dr. Dog evolve over the last 6 or so years of solid touring has been a treat. They've gone from a scruffy group of seemingly shy, sunglasses-wearing goofballs to a completely confident, fully-fledged rock band. One of the beauties of Dr. Dog is that, in that transition, they've seemingly never lost their unbridled creative joy. Midway through set opener "That Old Black Hole", a curtain dropped behind the band, revealing a giant wallpapered wall full of lovingly sloppy band-painted posters (best one: "2012: STEP IT UP" with a roll of hundred dollar bills below it) and a window showing a glowing moon in the distance. While many bands splurge when it comes to a live presentation, Dr. Dog's inexpensive take on creating their own world on stage was charming and effective. Surrounding the stage with lighted stained glass props, lamps, fireplace and stuffed tiger heads, it was as if the band was playing a house party in that shabby, well-loved house you lived in after you moved out of the dorms.
Another of the joys of a Dr. Dog set is seeing how they tackle every song with effervescent enthusiasm. Be it a brand new jam or a song from their second album, the band seemed genuinely thrilled to be playing every single song in their set, singing massive, flawless walls of harmony with smiles on their faces and bopping all over the stage like jumping beans during instrumental breaks. Much of this likely stems from Dr. Dog's tendency to rework their own songs to keep them fresh; not in an annoying "let's just play it slow and acoustic" way, but by rearranging accents and taking advantage of the combined manpower of having six members. "The Ark" strayed away from some of the compressed crawl of the album version, seeming even more choppy and turgid. "Worst Trip" gains a lot of legs live, literally; the band seemingly jogs in place for the duration of the song. In the midst of all of that sunshine, 2008's "Fate" gave bassist Toby Leaman a chance to exorcise some demons, opening his mouth and letting his soulful, hoarse rasp grow into a demonic roar. While the band has a scruffy look, leans heavily on classic sounds and has a fair share of jaw-dropping dual guitar work between Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy, it's totally unfair to drop Dr. Dog into the "hippie jam band" category. The band isn't afraid to let their songs breathe and wander around a bit, but the band's ultimate focus isn't showing off their chops, but to doing justice to the songs themselves.
The Crowd: A beautifully strange mix of folks on Valentine's Dates, hippie hipsters, and some really young, reeeeeeeeeeallllllly stoned kids.
Overheard In The Crowd: Guy behind me, sincerely yelling "WOO! Valentine's Day!"
Random Notebook Dump: Why has Dr. Dog never made a live record? I normally don't encourage that sort of behavior (it's generally contractual obligation and not a sincere desire to document a band's strengths), but holy frijoles, this band is incredibly strong in a live setting.
Dr. Dog Setlist:
- That Old Black Hole
- The Breeze
- The Ark
- Do The Trick
- Mirror, Mirror
- My Friend
- I Only Wear Blue
- Hang On
- These Days
- The Rabbit, The Bat and the Reindeer
- Shadow People
- Shame Shame
- Worst Trip
- The Way The Lazy Do
- Jackie Wants A Black Eye
- Heart It Races