February 9 2012
You know a band is going to give a good set when they have a plush lion's head hanging from a coatrack on the side of the stage.
Despite having probably the most ridiculous band name in the history of band names, Dr. Dog managed to completely dispel hipster apathy with their set last night at the Observatory. Theirs was indeed a performance to marvel at, as they turned a group of cool, collected and docile 20-somethings into the riled up crowd surfing hoodlums of their teenage years.
How exactly did they perform such a feat? Simple -- with a back drop set to look like a bedroom wall decorated with posters with things like Mickey Mouse and an astronaut, the band seemed to really want to transport the audience back to their younger days. What the set decorations didn't accomplish, the band certainly did. A frontline made up of guitarist and vocalist Scott McMicken, bassist and vocalist Toby Leaman and guitarist Frank McElroy provided harmonics, with McMicken and Leaman trading off lead vocals on different songs throughout the night. Though the three in the front were the most noticed, one can't help but acknowledge the importance of the back section as well, especially drummer Eric Slick's immaculate performance at the drum kit (Sweet mother of God, Mr. Slick!).
Tunes off the new record like set opener "That Old Black Hole" were performed with an energy that can only described as extremely infectious. "Lonesome" incited amongst the crowd's already roaring enthusiasm a call and response as only Dr. Dog could: "What does it take to be lonesome?" the band calls, and the crowd catches on. "Nothing at all!" "Vampire" brought out the first of many crowd surfing swells, setting the scene for the crowd's raucous vitality. Dr. Dog's performance was almost a sacrifice to some energy laden in the air, a translation of effervescence to breathe new, sweaty life into the stagnant hipster shells shielding our inner child.
"Heavy Light" especially brought us back to that place we wish we hadn't forgotten as children -- an innocence before the world outside had the chance to break our hearts. In this primal tune, "Heavy Light" recalled that fleeting youth, unlocking parts of our lost juvenile heedlessness and recreating (literally, visually) the bedrooms of our childhood. In this context, the name Dr. Dog makes perfect sense as the band we dreamed of starting when we were seven years old and singing our dreams to the papier-mâché moon outside our bedroom windows, when the world outside was a jungle and we would dance because we thought every song we heard was being played just for ourselves.
Whether or not the band truly intended to incite such an unruly reaction from the crowd ("Chill out," McMicken said to the crowd between songs after people had started stage diving in droves off the edge of the stage), the band certainly provided the kindling for this wild fire to take flame and burn through their inhibitions. Leaman's stage presence, the only member of the three frontline members not wearing sunglasses or a beanie, was one almost akin to the lion's head in the corner; during halted, slower jams like "The Beach," Leaman would commence a prowl of sorts -- a crouched roam, plucking his bass in step and staring hungrily at the audience.
The night wouldn't have been complete without hits like "Shadow People" and "Shame, Shame" off their album by the latter name, saved deftly for the end of their set. A couple of minutes offstage didn't seem to temper the crowd's reaction at all, as the encore incited even more uncontrollable crowd antics. Whether they just knew these last few songs were their final chances to piss off security or they were just really excited to be able to stage dive again, the crowd didn't calm themselves throughout the encore -- no matter how many times security trucked off some girl, there was always another one crowd surfing back up to the stage and trying to snatch a kiss from the band.
And isn't that what youth is about? Crowd surfing, being thrown off the stage by security only to rise again with a small lesson learned ("No, carry me away from the stage, that way!"), getting to dance next to a band playing their cover of Architecture in Helsinki's "Heart it Races" and dispelling that inhibition that sadly exists outside music venues? Dr. Dog's special brand of revitalization sparked this primal youth -- perhaps lost, perhaps forgotten, but always retrievable in the eyes of that stuffed lion's lead and the moon outside our bedroom window.
Critic's Bias: For the longest time, I thought that Dr. Dog was the name of the fictional band that ousts Bret and Jemaine at the end of the first season of "Flight of the Conchords." (That band is actually called Crazy Dogggz and is nowhere as good.) Then one day a friend had me listen to a Dr. Dog mix as we drank sangria and rode our bikes, and I was hooked for life.
The Crowd: A parade of rowdy, crowd surfing, stage diving, sweaty, dancing hipsters.
Overheard in the Crowd:
"That guy looks like a goddess."
"That's so weird... Why would I tell my mom?"
"... All ages shows are so funny."
"I feel like I'm in Tron and I can't walk!"
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Random Notebook Dump: At one point in the aforementioned crowd surfing, a girl surfaced onto the stage and a security guard picked her up and literally threw her back into the crowd. It was a sight to see.
"That Old Black Hole"
"Do the Trick"
"I Only Wear Blue"
"The Rabbit, the Bat & the Reindeer"
"The Way the Lazy Do"
"Heart it Races"
Note: To everyone who goes to shows at the Observatory in the future, I advise you look around and make sure your car is in a spot it won't get towed. My car, along with plenty others, was towed during the concert for a hefty fee. Though I arrived an hour after doors were supposed to open, the sign blocking the entrance to that specific lot prohibited us from parking in that specific lot was only put up after a slew of concert-goers and I had parked our cars and gone into the Observatory, where there are no ins and outs to check on said towed vehicles. I was assured by the manager that they're working to fix this, but until they do (or if they do), make absolutely certain that you're in the right place.