Ain't it strange to see your favorite DIY darlings actually start to get the recognition they deserve? It's been three years since I last saw Dr. Dog play to a sparsely populated lounge on a Saturday night‚ and despite the release of two excellent albums since then‚ it still felt weird to watch the group from the middle of a crowded club on a Monday. At first I figured the dude sporting a backwards Celtics cap and armbands grooving in front of me had mistaken the band for Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg (or Dre Dog for that matter) and simply didn't want to waste a good buzz. But as the night wore on and he continued to get his white boy swagger on‚ while other unlikely fans called out "Die‚ Die‚ Die" in between songs like it was fucking "Freebird‚" it dawned on me that the hearty crowd size was no fluke.
I was aware that the band had recently signed with Anti-‚ as evidenced by the professional production on the group's latest album Shame‚ Shame. But it was still impressive to see‚ feel and rock out with so many recent converts. Before the set started‚ I encountered that bittersweet sting a hipster feels when he realizes that a) everyone finally is listening to the group he's been preaching about for years‚ but b) he will have to find a new great band that no one else has heard of to play for cute girls‚ in hopes that they will think he's super original and a worthy candidate for future make-out sessions. Or something like that. Then the group took the stage with bassist Toby Leamon leading them through the relentlessly poppy attack of "Stranger‚" and suddenly all I cared about was seeing how hard I could bob my head without it falling off from my neck.
The stage and crowd were bigger‚ but unlike the dinosaur rockers they're so often compared to--who charge hundreds of dollars playing tame‚ arena rock versions of songs they wrote 40 years ago‚ Dr. Dog still have all the chops that contributed to their ascent‚ and perhaps even a few new ones. While the group's studio material often sounds laid back and effortless‚ witnessing the band in action can be overwhelming if you're trying to keep up with everything that's going on simultaneously. On top of the layers of background sound from keyboards‚ drums‚ multiple guitars and group harmonies‚ Dr. Dog boasts two distinctly different yet brilliantly complimentary frontmen. Guitarist Scott McMicken embodied his smooth vocals and relaxed demeanor with a worn winter hat atop his head and sun glasses so large and dark that if I met him on the street I'd assume he had just gotten his pupils dilated. Leamon on the other hand‚ sported gruff stubble and a straw fedora‚ vaguely resembling Woody Harrelson. Fortunately‚ he channeled his passionate energy into bouncing around the stage‚ wailing on his bass strings and oft abused vocal chords instead of slaughtering swarms of zombies or bowling with Bill Murray.
Just as they trade songwriting duties‚ Leamon and McMicken likewise took turns pressing meticulously through the bulk of Shame‚ Shame and much of Fate. Offering little crowd banter‚ Dr. Dog focused their attention on loyally recreating studio takes and building upon them with raw spontaneity. The night was defined by contrast. With Leamon at the helm‚ the band sounded urgent and abrasive‚ at times sounding more like a punk band than retro revival. McMicken's highlights were often more graceful but equally as captivating‚ such as his solo acoustic lead into "Jackie Wants A Black Eye." And then there were those spine tingling moments like "Shadow People‚" when the room's collective energy made me feel soft‚ heavy‚ upbeat‚ forlorn‚ pensive and carefree all at the same time. Though part of me wanted to hear more than the three pre-Fate tracks they performed ("The Girl‚" "The Way The Lazy Do" & a cover of Architecture in Helsinki's "Heart It Races"), it was moving to see a group so proud and eager to share their recent accomplishments. Dr. Dog is all too often yoked with labels like '60s nostalgia‚ but if there's any nostalgia associated with their current live show‚ it will come years from now when we sit back and remember the good old days when we saw two modern-day songwriting icons in their prime.