Words & Images by: Forrest Reda
Dr. Dog :: 05.13.08 :: Hotel Café :: Los Angeles, CA
In baseball they call it a double-header when you play two games in one day. Dr. Dog played their own double-header with two shows in one day at the Hotel Café to give the press corps a live listening party of new material, impress some suits, and sate L.A. fans until the band comes back to play the El Rey Theater in August.
The first set was a secret show filled with industry folks on their lunch break. Most of those in attendance were sitting at tables. It has to be awkward being ogled by suits sitting down, and was equally surreal to find one's self in a dimly lit Hollywood bar at noon, sipping a Guinness as the band, wearing sunglasses and scowls from being onstage so early in the day, looked out at the crowd. Whatever apprehension hung in the room quickly dissipated, with everyone quickly getting lost in the rush of Dr. Dog's righteous music.
After shaking the rust off with a new, up-tempo song, they launched into "Ain't It Strange" and then it was one celebration after another. Dr. Dog sets have become truly joyous occasions, and the Hotel Café dripped with many "oh man" moments. The Dog puts the needle into the red quickly. Co-songwriters and lead vocalists Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman write gorgeous, desperate, barn-burning songs that dip and spin as fast as the musicians whirl around onstage. Multi-layered vocals are fused with puddles of guitars, bass, drums and keyboards.
The band played a handful of new songs. "Fate" is a brooding, haunting song that makes good use of Zach Miller's keyboards and Leaman's presence and voice. Leaman practically spits the lyrics out. McMicken sang a new one that might be called "The Pretender" that rolls and jumps like, well, like a Dr. Dog song. The band now has enough songs to add intrigue to every set, and a style of vintage rock that's all their own.
The early set was somewhat of a rehearsal and soundcheck, but every time I've seen Dr. Dog they have performed with gusto and this was no different. The band dealt with a broken string and feedback issues, which foreshadowed a broken snare in the evening set, which itself led to the band ad-libbing, with help from the audience, into an acoustic "California." Someone in the front asked for "Say Something" but McMicken wouldn't play it because it was too emotional for him right then, which made me think of the plight of musicians who turn life into words and must repeat them evermore.
Dr. Dog :: 05.13 :: Los Angeles, CA
Dr. Dog's robust lineup was on full display on the small Hotel Café stage. Leaman is the heartbeat and McMicken is the soul. Frank McElroy is the conscience of the band and Juston Stens provides a steady drum roll. Miller lays down lush arrangements on the keys. Here, when he wasn't playing the guitar, McMicken also banged the Hotel Café's upright piano with his hands, heels and hips. His delicate cigarette stained fingers pedaled softly over the ivories and he exposed his soul with the excruciating songs he freely offered to the crowd.
I got a chance to talk to Leaman before the evening show and I got the sense that the coolest thing about their current level of success is the ability to buy a painting off the wall from a bartender in Chicago to use for album art, paying with cash from being out on the road.
Even as they play the game, Dr. Dog does it their own way. They looked out of place in Hollywood and admitted to feeling that way. McMicken asked the crowd if they felt insane. He said, "Every time I come here, I feel like I'm insane." Dr. Dog are East-Coasters coming out to the mythical West to find it, only to go back East, still searching but knowing that it can only be found in motion, and only for fleeting moments.
Dr. Dog is a throwback band. McMicken and Leaman wear boots when they play because they are sturdy, and they wear boots every day anyway. Their clothes are made for work. They are a railroad or country fair jug band in a rock world, musicians who toil all day just to sing songs in the tent at night. All these traits came through loud and clear in this preview of the next country mile ahead.
Leaman & McMicken :: 05.13 :: Los Angeles, CA
Musicians serve to entertain, providing laughter, tears or just plain old distraction. The good ones can accentuate or even create a mood. Dr. Dog evokes the nostalgia of the not-too distant past, a time of honest living and hard work, but they also sing about failed romances, too. On this night, "Alaska" stuck out, Leaman's bittersweet lyrics ringing truer then ever.
I dreamt we're at the station
And you asked me if you could go
You know, I never really had the chance to say no
Dr. Dog is an amalgamation of the Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Band and the Dead, and they've caught flack from wearing their influences proudly. But, they are very now and loud and passionate and their energy is the thing that makes them so special. Already catching buzz from SXSW, these shows were an indication that Dr. Dog is poised to do big things this year.
Check out JamBase's exclusive 2007 feature on Dr. Dog here...
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