all words: Zach Goldbaum
all photos: Jeff Martin
You can’t judge a band by its albums, even if those albums consistently deliver, because it’s never an indicator of what you’ll get live. Playing in front of a psuedo-stained glass backdrop (think the work of a hippier Marc Chagall), Dr. Dog powered through a nearly 90-minute set at 930 club on Friday before a committed sold-out crowd. Their music, a nostalgic taste of American folk, gets a hard rock-energy makeover for the stage, serving up a hot portion of noise on a wintry night.
Opening act The Head and the Heart is definitely worth taking note of. With a front man that sounds uncannily like David Gray and a few other distinct voices to boot, this Seattle based five-some is definitely on the up-and-out. It’s hard to believe that this show was their first time on the East Coast as a group, and it certainly won’t be their last. They’ve got a really warm bluegrass undertone and solid folksy harmonies, and a seasoned camaraderie and stage presence that made them feel like headliners.
After a brief lull, Dr. Dog was quick to rile the crowd, quickly putting to rest any lingering concerns that their show might be subdued. I had seen them shortly after the release of Fate in 2008 at Amoeba Music in LA and I wasn’t terribly impressed. But I knew not to judge too harshly any band that I saw while leaning on the “World Music” rack at a record store. Mere moments into their opening number, “I Only Wear Blue,” I knew I was in for a vastly different experience (I was eager to see them in a more appropriate setting ever since I heard about Toby Leaman getting punched in the throat in a bar brawl a few years back, leading to the cancellation of a few shows).
Decked out in sunglasses and Dr. Dog tuques with Koosh ball pom-poms, the six member band took the stage with a rabid energy that isn’t exactly present on any of their albums. In fact, if this was your first introduction to the Philly-based band, it would have been difficult to recognize them once you bought the album. The tightly constructed harmonies are stellar on their albums, but suffer from poor mixing in the live setting. I found this to be particularly true when they played “The Ark,” which has a strikingly similar vocal arrangement as The Beatles “Because.” Scott McMicken and Leaman, who split the vocal parts, tend to get lost behind instrumentation and the harmonies get jumbled in the process. This is the sacrifice you make when you bring such unbridled energy to the stage and poses an interesting question: do you stay true to the sound of your albums, or do you unleash the beast and let performance energy dictate the sound? And are energy and accuracy mutually exclusive?
Regardless of your opinions on clarity, Dr. Dog undeniably gave it their all and the audience was appreciative. Some of my personal favorites — “Stranger”, “Shadow People”, “The Rabbit, The Rat, and the Reindeer”, and a cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart it Races” — were given excellent renditions. In many ways, “Shame, Shame” marks an evolution in the bands style, albeit a subtle one, and perhaps this type of performance is just a more realized version of what they were initially going for on the album.