all words: Colin Wilhelm
all photos: Farrah Skeiky
Welcome to the Washington metro area’s largest dorm party. Your hosts tonight will be Dr. Dog.
Lamps, a fake doorframe, a fireplace (non-working presumably), and some other assorted furniture adorned the 9:30 Club stage for the Friday show. This aesthetic matched the observed age of most audience members—who roared as a black backdrop shed itself from a painted representation of an (fictional?) undergrad Dr. Dog fan’s room.
All of it, down to the pancho and ski hat (respectively) clad guitarists seemed to scream: “College!”. That’s not a criticism, just the tone of the evening.
Dr. Dog can be most aptly described as My Morning Jacket with their trusty genre-switching knob stuck on the pop/60’s nostalgia setting. It comes as no surprise that Jim James discovered them and helped foster them to their current tour headliner status—at times they practically sound like the “My Morning Jacket Experience”.
But while MMJ bounces from upbeat to moody to just kind of out there (and changes genres as easily as socks), Dr. Dog mostly keeps the good vibes coming with a strange brew of Phil Spector, Grateful Dead, Donovan, late-Beatles, and a variety of other contemporaneous era influences that would be tedious to list in this space. Dr. Dog could announce a GirlTalk-style live-mashup tour of popular Vietnam-era songs and I would not bat an eyelash (but would line up to see them pull it off).
So one’s enjoyment of the show would depend largely on one’s opinion of MMJ through a Wall of Sound EQ, though with more vocal harmonies and opportunities to dance. Most would (or should) consider that a positive. One minor gripe though—they put on a fun show, but sometimes the consistent repetition of this sound can make the ear fall complacent—many of their songs blend together in concert and in memory. Still “Lonesome” and “Jackie Wants a Black Eye” stand out as highlights of the concert.
Whereas Dr. Dog were obvious fans of Jim James and co., opener Birdie Busch and her band checked the Wilco box on the a la carte alternative-country/folk/rock sound influence card. During most songs they literally were said mid-tempo rock band with a quiet female singer slash songwriting core in lieu of Jeff Tweedy. If that sounds derivative, well, it is, but Busch still entertained in parts, like when though she broke up the monotony by channeling Joni Mitchell instead on “Penny Arcade” (and to be fair her/their recordings sound more original).
Normally this might be an indicator of a young band worth tracking to see if they refine their own sound; however they’ve been playing together for seven years. Overall she and her band whet an appetite for what came after, and were nice to listen to, especially on “Mystical”; they just didn’t pull Dr. Dog’s trick of transmuting familiarity into something attention-grabbing.