Dr. Dog lit up Richmond this past Thursday, stopping in for a performance at The National while on tour promoting their upcoming album, Critical Equation (April 27). The crowd’s initial sparks segwayed into the first stages of cohesion; a consensus of chatter and recollection swept across the room. The consensus illustrated the Philly outfit as the remote ‘regulars’; key performers alongside other main stage acts across festivals far and wide.
Yet despite their veteran membership in each of my Spotify playlists, I had never seen the band live. Raw and rough around the edges, I imagined a crusty outfit with singer/guitarist Scott McMicken choking out the words into the mic he seemingly rests upon, his crooning ensemble itching out the lo-fi riffs as backdrop; the embodiment of stagnant air. Yet despite my preconceptions, the band in the flesh was, pretty normal; far more poignant and playful upon their punctual arrival. No flashy build-up, nor playful antics led up to the opening song.
While many bands carry several surprises in advance, Dr. Dog dazzled its audience with minimal flash and all bang. Everyone knew every song, singing along and cheering at nearly every opening note as the band expedited the show with little to no breaks in between. No reaffirming confetti showers to establish a good time. Even their newest tracks, released not even a couple of months ago, had the crowd well-responsive, hanging on every line as if they had co-released the singles with the band back in January.
Coming off a seven-month hiatus, the group warmed up the crowd with several songs from Shame, Shame and other past albums, sprinkling in each of their four new singles off their forthcoming album in between the continuing chorus-like flow they had mastered over years of festival touring. In one of their newest songs, “Listening In”, McMicken spins an illustrious tale frayed at the ends, almost neurotic in an obsession for misplaced love and mounting suspicion of “the animals” impending attacks. The band also incorporated other new tracks such as their surprisingly upbeat and humorous “Heart Killer” and “Buzzing In The Light” fairly early in the 17-song set. Of course, they also trotted out older tracks such as “These Days” and “Ladada” much to the delight of the crowd.
In bridging between songs, the group would catch the audience by surprise. Whether it was an upbeat whooping over an impressive display of slide guitar, a delayed elation left many hanging onto the opening note. One second the track was another of their signature sing-along, and the next had McMicken locking each of us into a psychedelic groove. Between songs the band would build up a static monolith, only to rupture at the seams they pulled apart.The raw energy of Zach Miller’s vocals swayed with bravado, occasionally colliding into McMicken limping tales he would extend out to the audience.
Drummer Eric Slick kept a steady count and a slow kick-snare beat on his five-piece, interchanging tempos that offered a brisk linkage between songs.
The band cruised through their set with ease. The encore, supposedly on a whim, had McMicken opening the floor to audience members for song requests, as in his words “we have nothing planned”. Though they had incorporated nearly all of my favorite and several hidden gems I would add later that night, it didn’t feel enough. As I began to walk away, a common occurrence for seeing bands, I did a double take back to the stage. I wasn’t ready to leave.
Why is it that a show this improvised and minimal could leave the audience, the notoriously static head knobbers of Richmond, ravenously blissful upon exit? Many others were left frozen at the lowest notes, some gone feral upon the opening, though all in awe upon exit. It was clear the group had evolved and were refreshed, far more polished in person with heavy detail. The band provided a communal sense with the audience that broke from the constraints of mere musicians. That night, in the absence of pizzazz and circumstance, Dr. Dog provided a haven for its constituents, in a show so simple, it still left me with chills long after I’d arrived home.
Photos By: Korey Grate
Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond