Dr. Dog is one of those quirky, rambunctious bands you can’t pinpoint, stylistically or otherwise, that makes for the perfect outdoor festival experience. Not a jam band, but not a Beatles tribute act either, their newest album Be the Void has shaken off critics who claim they’re “just another indie rock” outfit and created indelible hooks that linger in your head for days on end. At Forecastle this past Saturday, their Camelbak-toting, cigarette-smoking audience may have been something of a walking stereotype, but the band itself delivered a boundary-shattering performance running on pure adrenaline.
Opening with the single “Shadow People” to the delight of fresher fans, the Philly boys wasted no time in accessing their perpetual stage sway. Co-lead Scott McMicken, dressed in a baseball jersey and floppy hat and armed with a traffic cone-colored guitar, sounded reedy and serene, which juxtaposed pleasantly with the steam-rolling back-up vocals, unyielding ivory-tinkling, and rocking deconstruction at the very end. “It’s 0 to 60 for Dr. Dog,” he proclaimed in between songs, a statement that rang true as the musical construction and thrilling subsequent deconstruction ran on throughout the afternoon. “Stranger” and the oddly poetic “That Old Black Hole” showed off Eric Slick’s irresistible drumming and worked the crowd into a groove that finally brimmed over with a tornadic rendition of “Lonesome.” Other co-lead Toby Leaman took his voice to the very edge of its raspy potential for the benefit of a crowd that seemed astounded by the unstoppable energy of the band. “Hang On,” from 2008’s Fate, saw more careening and cutting of rugs than any other number in the set, demonstrating how much the members actually enjoy performing with one another and how much they cater to active participation from their listeners. And with “Heart It Races,” their stand-out cover of the Architecture in Helsinki original, the rich three-part harmonies the band has been known for floated across the hot, sweaty crowd like a burst of cool air. “Heavy Light” skipped from a feel-good groove headlong into an amped-up, howling, synth-heavy pitfall right before knocking the finale number “The Beach” straight into the river. Leaman, whose chambray button-up needed a heavy wringing before the set was through, was the audience’s guide through the chilling outro, nearly strangling the microphone in the process and leaving the stage utterly spent.
Dr. Dog still lingers somewhere between the lo-fi band they once were and the refrain-heavy euphony of Be the Void. They seem to be searching for elements that are at once comfortable and evocative, quirky and chaotic. Five albums on, it remains to be seen what kind of band will emerge on the other end of relentless experimentation. One thing they will never compromise on their journey through identity formation, however, is enthusiasm, both for their music and their fans. “We’re growing up,” they seem to be saying, “but we’re not quite done having a good time.”
Photo courtesy of Rock Cousteau.