When Dr. Dog first played the smaller Showcase Lounge at this Vermont venue, the audiences were as sparse as the band's influences were obvious. But their audience has grown as the group and their music has evolved, so that the larger of the two rooms was tightly packed this day after Valentine's Day.
And deservedly so. Dr. Dog has largely shed the influences of The Band and the Beach Boys (though the emphasis on group harmony vocals thankfully remains) as their music has gotten tougher and more dense. And while the Philly group doesn't directly resemble The Beatles in how they now sound, the knotty twists they give their songs has to conjure audio fantasies of how the iconic Liverpudlians might have sounded had they gone no further into artsy psychedelia than "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane."
The close to ninety minute single set was a tightly knit selection of Dr. Dog songs old and new, rendered with their usually quirky joie de vivre. They barely avoid collisions within the structure of songs like "Shadow People" as they do cavorting around the stage, but that subtle combination of abandon and discipline keeps both the material and their stage presence (right down to the stained-glass lighting effects) from becoming too precious.
And that's a real threat with an audience as devoted to them as this one at Higher Ground: loud acclamation at the start of songs, regular sing-alongs during verses and choruses of "The Beach" all made for a convivial atmosphere that was wholly natural, right down to the clamorous call for an encore the band teased for after walking casually off-stage when they were (almost) done.
Thrashing through a couple newer pop-rock concoctions, Dr. Dog ended the regular set in frenzy after two or three crescendos, then chose to mute their return to the stage with "From" to placate the fans. Still, nowhere during the evening did the momentum lag despite the tight, short arrangements that in sequence might lend itself to monotony. The tandem guitar chording from Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy on "Mirror Mirror" was a definite aberration but a welcome one late in the show, particularly given the moody intros supplied much of the night from keyboardist Zach Miller and new Dimitri Manos who added percussion and other effects to simulate the intricacy of the group's studio work.
Dr. Dog's music has more than enough substance to lend itself to progression in any number of directions and the combination of their effervescence toward what they do and their followers' loyalty is the kind of nurturing relationship any band would relish. Which only makes the prospect of seeing the band over and over again all that much more inviting.