Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Dr. Will See You, Now

A low murmur of excitement hung in the air at the Paradise Rock Club, Tuesday night, as the growing crowd awaited their canine friends to take the stage. With the addition of each Dr. Dog disciple, the murmur swelled to a full roar and chants of “Doc-tor Dog! Doc-tor Dog!” sporadically erupted as stage-hands shrouded in black shuffled across the stage. Though the Philadelphia-based quintet has remained quietly below the mainstream’s radar, the crowd’s pre-show energy suggested that this is a band ready to make some noise. It’s no surprise that Dr. Dog can pack a room at the Paradise—their newest release, Shame, Shame, recently topped the College Music Journal’s list of Top 10 College Radio Albums—and Boston is the college-town, after all.

Opening the night were idiosyncratic alt-country rockers, Deer Tick, out of Providence, RI. Frontman John McCauley swaggered on-stage decked out in a red “I’m Not Santa Claus, but you can sit on my lap anyway…” t-shirt, white hipster sunglasses, and a black Boston Red Sox hat—“Just for you, Boston.” McCauley’s gritty drawl sounds like the result of a life lived at the bottom of a barrel of Tennessee whiskey smoking three packs of Marlboro Reds a day. His semi-Southern persona was underlined by the occasional glint of his sliver tooth in the stage light. Deer Tick played an hour-plus set featuring songs from their first two albums, War Elephant and Born on Flag Day, as well as new releases from their upcoming The Black Dirt Sessions.

Deer Tick are far from unknown as illustrated by the crowd’s cheers and sing-alongs throughout the set. Standout tracks included a slowed down rendition of “Ashamed,” which traded acoustic sensibility for arena rock appeal, culminating in show-stopping guitar solo that could have easily been the work of Eddie Van Halen. During “These Old Shoes,” McCauley hilarious pointed to bassist Christopher Dale Ryan and guitarist Ian O’Neil (formerly of Titus Andronicus) while crooning about surviving a plane crash with a “priest and a clown” before shouting, “it was a no-go for this hobo!” O’Neil’s steady vocals complimented McCauley’s coarse voice while his rhythmic guitar often broke into face-melting erratic riffs. Their set ended with an extended drum solo from Dennis Ryan reminiscent of John Bonham’s “Four Sticks.” Expect great things from these guys.

On to the main attraction. Dr. Dog’s neon-orange tape lined instruments glowed in the darkness of the stage as the band jumped into the swirling rhythms of “Stranger,” a song showcasing their ability to match themes of uncertainty with upbeat melodies. Though Dr. Dog’s recordings portray baroque pop sensibilities, their live performance highlighted an explosive yet subtle punk-rock side. Bassist Toby Leaman and lead guitarist Scott McMicken traded lead vocal duties throughout the set creating something of a Lennon-McCartney dynamic one can’t help but draw from the band’s established 60s pop sound. Additionally, guitarist Frank McElroy’s commanding rhythms played perfectly off of McMicken’s bending guitar while Zach Miller’s and Eric Slick’s consistently inventive piano and drum work drove the engine of the band.

The set focused primarily on tracks from 2008’s Fate and the recently released Shame, Shame, though songs from We All Belong periodically found their way into the set. Perhaps the greatest sing-along response from the crowd came during “The Old Days” as McMicken sang the chorus while the stage lights pulsed along to the beat:

Down, down, down,

Moon gonna fall down.

Thump, thump, thump,

House gonna fall down.

Chop, chop, chop,

Tree gonna fall down.

Down, down, down,

Down to the bottom.

Songwriting is paramount to Dr. Dog and each new song established an entirely different atmosphere in the tiny Paradise club—from down-home country during “Station” to the finely-tuned energy of “Where’d All the Time Go?” Leaman and McMicken danced back and forth across the stage as McElroy—towering in height over the rest of the band—bounced along with his guitar. Lead vocals aside, the band’s ability to harmonize in the old 60s pop “ooh-wop-bop” fashion succeeds in a paradox of complex simplicity that many other bands simply cannot match. The backing harmonies established an addictive groove that members of the crowd kept singing even after the song had finished. After an hour and a half set that left the crowd begging for more, the band returned for a three song encore that included the autobiographic “Jackie Wants a Black Eye” that featured McMicken’s only acoustic work of the night. By the night’s end, Dr. Dog had left the audience exhausted, glowing, and ready to do it all again.

-Steve Church

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