Live review: Dr. Dog hit the retro road

Pub date December 16, 2010

Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog is the kind of band that can’t seem to get enough of life on the road. Earlier this fall, during the first of two nights at the Fillmore on what is the band’s second full tour in support of April’s Shame, Shame (Anti), fans were treated to a lengthy, lively set of retro-minded indie-rock.

The show kicked off with Shame, Shame opener “Stranger,” which showcased bassist Toby Leaman’s perfectly frayed vocals set amongst some soaring Beatles-esque harmonies and Motown posturing from his band mates. “Slowly I’ve become undone/ a stranger, with a stranger heart,” he yelped with a gruff clip to his voice, sounding like Harry Nilsson during his late, destroyed vocal cord phase.

Shame, Shame material filled most of the band’s set list, with Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken trading off lead vocal duties nearly song for song. McMicken’s higher-pitched, smoother-around-the-edges voice offered a nice counterpoint to Leaman’s, and led to a couple of the show’s highlights. “The Old Days” from 2008’s Fate (park the Van) started with a slow, snaking piano line courtesy of Zach Miller (the band’s stoically efficient keyboardist/organist) and McMicken singing, “Let go of the old ones/ we’ve got some new ones.” By song’s end, the band was jumping around the stage during a rollicking outro section led by Leaman’s catchy bass line and McMicken’s classic-rock soloing. “The Breeze” offered maybe the best example of how well these guys have locked down their live arrangements, with tambourine, shakers, and three-part harmonies carrying the sparse opening lines before the whole band jumped in. Leaman took over vocals during the song’s breakdown, gazing right through the crowd, singing, “Are there dark parts, to your mind/ Hidden secrets, left behind/ Where no one ever goes/ But everybody knows” with an unsettling stare, finishing with a cathartic “It’s alright!”

Elsewhere, the brand new “Take Me Into Town” sounded like Beggars Banquet-lite, the Architecture in Helsinki cover “Heart it Races” took on a classic soul and R&B feel, and “Worst Trip” from 2007’s We All Belong (Park the Van) was rushed through at a breakneck, almost punk-rock pace. Props must be given to new(ish) drummer Eric Slick, who has stepped in seamlessly and added his own little touches to the band’s live shows.

The encore offered up some unexpected treats for long-time fans. “Say Something” and “Oh No,” two tracks from the 2005 EP Easy Beat (Park the Van) sounded great and far beefier than their lo-fi album counterparts. The highlight, however, was “California,” a stripped-down acoustic ditty with jug band and barbershop quartet touches that really separated itself stylistically from everything that’d come before it.

Tastemakers like Pitchfork have lazily written Dr. Dog off as derivative muggers of ‘60s and ‘70s rock standards, and the band still hasn’t experienced the mainstream success its devout followers know it deserves. But for lovers of good old-fashioned, no-bullshit rock and roll, this is one of the more fun, hardworking live bands around.