TVD Live: Dr. Dog
at the 9:30 Club, 3/16

I have to preface this review by mentioning that I absolutely love/am admittedly obsessed with Dr. Dog, my favorite modern band.

So, needless to say, it disappoints me when I’m met with speculative looks and blank stares whenever I mention them in conversation or wear my beloved Dr. Dog beanie out and about.  Maybe Dr. Dog’s name was inspired by the medicinal value of their music, because I strongly believe that all of my friends (really, every person I come into human contact with) would benefit greatly from listening to their music.

Obsessive ramblings aside, I must also note that I found it to be the most pleasant twist of fate that I had the opportunity to see Dr. Dog perform on my birthday last Friday during their sold-out show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC.

The Philadelphia-based band began their March 16th set with “That Old Black Hole,” the lead single from their new album, Be the Void, released last month on Anti- Records. While I wasn’t surprised by their choice of opening song, I was pleased to hear them go on to play “Stranger,” the first track off of the band’s 2010 release Shame, Shame, immediately after. Too often do I find myself disappointed with bands when they omit older songs from their live sets in favor of new material. The sextet would go on to play what I found to be the perfect blend of both old and new songs, delving deep into the catalog of Dr. Dog songs, which consists of material from six studio albums.

Dr. Dog is one of those bands that can take a song that sounds great recorded and make it sound even better in concert. The melodic harmonies and layered instrumentation that define Dr. Dog only sound better when performed in a live setting. Also helping the band bring their lo-fi, ‘60s psychedelic pop-inspired sound to the stage were the two newest members of the group—percussionist Dmitri Manos, who brought the effects heard on Be the Void to the stage, and drummer Eric Slick.

Highlights of the show included “The Beach,” a cut from the band’s 2008 release Fate that featured bassist/vocalist Toby Leaman’s raspy and soulful vocals filling the venue, as well as “Shadow People.” While guitarist/vocalist Scott McMicken sings lead vocals on the recorded version, on Friday he was accompanied with backing vocals performed by the evening’s concertgoers, as much of the audience could be heard singing along. The band also garnered a strong crowd response when they played “Hang On,” a track from 2007’s We All Belong that got shouts from the crowd as soon as keyboardist Zach Miller began playing the opening notes. The band concluded their four-song encore and ended the show with “Heart it Races,” a cover of an Architecture in Helsinki song released in 2007.

Having now seen Dr. Dog live six times, it is always interesting to compare shows and see how the band’s live performance has evolved with time. One thing that remains consistent with every Dr. Dog show is the level of enthusiasm the band gives out. Needless to say, energy and good vibes were in abundance on Friday. The band seemed engaged and connected with one another, with McMicken and rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy playing impressive dual guitar parts, something I especially noticed during “These Days.” The band also performed each song with a seemingly effortless vigor, with many of the band members jumping about and jogging around the stage throughout the duration of the night. Notably, Leaman’s shirt, which started out as a light blue color, had turned into a sweat-induced shade of navy blue by the end of the band’s 21-song, hour-and-a-half-long set.

The energy and charisma present on stage could also be found amongst the crowd. It was refreshing to be surrounded by fellow lovers of the Dog—the majority of the concertgoers appeared to be avid Dog fans, as they were engaged and danced along to every song, verifying that there are many others who love Dr. Dog just as much as I do and making me feel right at home. Also home-y was the band’s stage set-up, which consisted of a wallpapered wall covered in hand-painted posters, lamps, stained glass, a fireplace, and mounted tiger heads that would end up being worn by band members.

Making the night even more successful was my friend, who graciously attended with me despite being unfamiliar with the music of Dr. Dog, saying that she had been converted into a fan. Dr. Dog’s performance on Friday certainly satisfied concertgoers, whether they were old-school fans or novice listeners. No question about it, Dr. Dog has set a very high bar for themselves. However, there’s also no question that they will continue to exceed expectations and show that they are capable of putting on an incredible live show.

Photos by Mukul Ranjan

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