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!”
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.