Dr. Dog/Here We Go Magic @ Showbox SoDo, Seattle, WA 10.29.10
Watching a scrappy little band climb up the ranks of the rock and roll clubs can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. We, as music fans, develop these ridiculously intimate connections with bands over the course of their careers, and seeing them playing bigger venues and finding ourselves pushed to the back of the crowd, paying more for tickets, more for beers, and more for parking can serve to drive a wedge right in the middle of that lifeline.
Over the past two years, Philadelphia's Dr. Dog have gone from playing the Tractor Tavern to the Crocodile and now have found themselves bumped up to the bigs, playing at the 1500 person capacity Showbox Sodo (surprisingly skipping over Neumos or Showbox at the Market in the process). Given that I haven't heard Dr. Dog in a Gap's in-store playlist or seen them prominently featured in a trailer for the new Judd Apatow film, I was a little befuddled by the choice of venue, and walking into Showbox Sodo on Friday night (after finding a parking spot directly across the street from the venue. Score!) and judging on the comfortably half-full room, it would be easy to say that it was an unfortunate booking choice. However, everything about Dr. Dog's current show says they'll have no problems packing rooms of this size in the near future.
In baseball terms, the Dr. Dog that Seattle has seen roll through town prior to this has been the Bad News Bears. Scruffy around the edges, charming, and lovably stuck in the past, but not necessarily major league material. All of the original charm of Dr. Dog is still there, but a few tweaks here and there (a big spotted backdrop that the band painted themselves, adding an auxiliary member playing percussion and tweaking sounds, and one of those "God, I don't want to know how much they pay a night for that" light shows) have helped Dr. Dog up their game to an incredibly polished machine. Sure, the great debate exists as to whether all of those extra flashing lights and smoke machines actually enhance the experience or just serve as a gimmicky distraction for slower, less dynamic parts, but with a band this full of vibrant and genuine moments, it only helps to make those moments that much more impactful.
Watching the stage turn a creepy purplish hue for the plodding, gruff verses and explode into sweeping colors during the choruses of the heartwrenching "Fate" was perfect for looking around the room and getting a little creeped out, playing the old "Is that person dressed up for Halloween or just a weirdo?" game. Trying to take in the explosion of fill lights during the chorus and the overwhelming cacophony of strobe lights during the melodic freakout guitar solos of "The Old Days" was pretty breathtaking. When the band ran through their cover of Architecture in Helsinki's "Heart It Races", the stage turned a radiant, golden hue, and beams of light were casting off of the tuning pegs of bassist Toby Leaman's guitar into the crowd, transforming an otherwise candy-coated pop song into something of a weird, heavenly beach blanket dance party on the sun.
Big stadium light show aside, Dr. Dog is still one of the most incredibly well-rehearsed live bands out there right now. Playing a set that focused more on 2008's Fate and this year's Shame, Shame, Dr. Dog focused a bit more on the "rawk" side of their catalog, versus some of the looser, folkier numbers of their early days. While I would've loved to see them do a pumped up take on earlier tracks like "My Old Ways" and "Oh No", watching them playfully amp up and re-animate classics like "The Way The Lazy Do" and the surprising inclusion of "Worst Trip" were nice nods to their old days. Listening to Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy's dueling lead guitar work is other-worldly; they dance back and forth, playfully stepping on each other's toes on occasion, never playing it too showy but still finding a way to write interesting guitar lines that are still melodic and serve the songs perfectly. I've honestly never seen two guitar players compliment each other as well as these two. Also, especially on bassist Toby Leaman's taking the lead on "Hang On", hearing McElroy and McMicken's vocal harmonies together, you can't help but scratch your head and go "No way that this is actually happening live"; they're as pitch perfect as they come, and those "oohs and aahs" harmonies (which play such a huge part on the band's records) propel the songs into absolutely epic territory full of breathtaking melodic bliss. Now, more than ever, the band that is appearing live as Dr. Dog is the same band that you'll find on record, and it's an incredible spectacle to behold.
Brooklyn's Here We Go Magic opened up the show, and were a pretty perfect warm-up for Dr. Dog. Falling somewhere between the staccato stuttering of Talking Heads and a weirdly perfect combination of the guitar exploration of Television and the meandering, looping groove of Stereolab, Here We Go Magic's sunny set of drawn-out, explorative pop was a really fantastic compliment to Dr. Dog's magical melody tour, and really helped kick start the totally transcendental vibe of the evening.
The Crowd: For as sunny and retro/vintage as Dr. Dog's influences are, the Dr. Dog crowd is thankfully less hippie-driven than, say, the last Built to Spill show I went to. Twirling was at an absolute minimum around me.
Personal Bias: After more than a few margaritas last year, I'm pretty sure I declared Dr. Dog the best band on the planet. In the sober light of day, I realize that claim was a bit of a stretch, but they're at least top ten in my book of favorite active bands.
Random Notebook Dump: It seemed like everyone around me that was wearing a costume was 22 years old and had just seen Eyes Wide Shut for the first time. Putting on a suit and a creepy carnival mask is fine if you're hanging out in Fremont or a sex dungeon, but keep your pointy probiscis away from my Dr. Dog show, please.