Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller
Dr. Dog :: 04.16.09 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
Lots of bands play The Fillmore but far fewer are actually worthy of joining the awe-inspiring ranks decorating the walls, an unbroken line of cool from yesterday standard bearers like Moby Grape and Cream to current flag wavers for real musicianship and quality music like Wilco and The Decemberists. If a group has it in them, then this venue will creep into their veins, the resin of beautiful gigs past clouding their bloodstream and putting a lantern shine behind their eyes. I've seen it happen too many times for it to be a fluke. The first time a band headlines this hallowed hall something positively chemical occurs, and they stomp a few holes of their own in the joint, limbs pumped up by Blue Cheer and Neil Young and... well, you get the idea. Dr. Dog's coming out party was decorated with vibrant colors, random foliage and Christmas lights, a bold array that got nostrils flaring and pupils wide long before they struck up the band.
In many ways, the creeping expectation in my belly (and a number of those around me) as the house lights dimmed was very much like what occurred the first time My Morning Jacket topped the bill at The Fillmore. This night, as with MMJ, one felt witness to musicians coming into their full power - no holding back after this, potential unlocked, boundaries toppled. And the only time this happens is when a group has THEIR sound, THEIR thing, fully in place. Where the temptation earlier in their career was to reference The Beatles, Beach Boys or The Band, it took all of two tunes to understand what Dr. Dog creates is their own glorious soup stuffed with sprinkled and chopped ingredients too blended to pick apart. It's not that these oft-named ancestors aren't in there but these children have left home, bindles high, a fragrant pipe steaming between their teeth as they hike towards their destiny. Too bold? Too folkloric? Well, there should be some irrational, celestially reaching elements to what we love, and there's such jubilation, unsullied philosophizing and pub-worthy sing-ability to Dr. Dog's music that love seems a natural response to me.
One thing that separates them from today's pack of quirky indie pop folks (a spot they get lumped in, right or wrong) is the unnamed but tangible menace in their work. For all the bright slogans and clawing towards mountaintops in their tunes, there's also shadow and danger, and that makes their anthems a bit more resilient in the real world. Scott McMicken (guitar, vocals) had a cool Ziggy Stardust growl that surfaced a few times in their set, and the guitars were occasionally wonderfully rugged, often in conscious contrast to the heavenly choir harmonies and Freddie Mercury/Queen operatics of some pieces like "The Breeze" and "The Way The Lazy Do," which benefited from the high ceiling and chandelier ambiance. Dr. Dog has had large scale material since their earliest club days but now they're booking larger spaces like The Fillmore, and the music is swelling accordingly – and not some bloated, overly theatrical pomp but honest to goodness testifying about super structures and the way they flow in our ventricles. One felt swept up into something bigger than a weeknight in San Francisco, bigger than another rock show (though they do bring the proverbial "rock show" vibe with real force). "Down, down, down/ chop, chop, chop" we traveled through vine encrusted pathways, downwards towards Dante and upwards towards redemption, moving through Tex Avery flurries of color, Cali hardcore punk rapids and observant Kinks-esque ditties.
Dr. Dog is one of a handful of bands I could see myself listening to at the exclusion of much else. It's a feeling that washes over me each time I've seen them perform but never quite as powerfully as this gig. There's such variety to their terrain, which encompasses "old days in the shade" by the river and wild tears on city streets. Despite an embrace of nature and animal spirits, there's not much pastoral or folksy about Dr. Dog, who may dab on some ska or country flavor but the meat underneath is always rock 'n' roll.
|Dr. Dog :: 04.16 :: The Fillmore|
Yelling "Die, die, die" during the encore, as if it were a battle cry for the living, you could hear some of the same elegiac characteristics in their music (and full throttle live presentation of it) that keep people singing Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" or Zeppelin's "The Rain Song," some snippet of universal understanding given rhyme and reason. That's real power to connect people, and it's further elevated by their healthy skepticism, which announced near the end, "Some days I don't/ Some days I do/ Fuck it." Uncertainty and certainty are usually at odds but Dr. Dog makes contradictions make sense. They make them hum and cavort in ways that unleashes the positivity of the sunnier elements and saps the will of the negative parts. It's wonderful music and deep, and especially so when shared communally, arms locked with one's fellow hounds, singing clumsily but infused with heart to match the thumping muscle its creators bring to it.
Dr. Dog is on tour now; dates available here.
Continue reading for more pics of Dr. Dog at The Fillmore in San Francisco...