TVD Live! Dr. Dog
at 9:30 Club, 1/29

Philadelphia festival veteran group Dr. Dog made a two-night stop in DC at the 9:30 Club as just one leg in their ongoing tour that continues until Winter 2011. The Vinyl District was there to see what the big deal was and to check out opening acts Buried Beds and The Head and the Heart, who are traveling with Dr. Dog down the eastern seaboard until February.

The show started with Buried Beds (also from Philadelphia), a five person outfit that featured a fiddle and keyboard. Their sound, which I would call art-folk pop-rock, was the theme for the bands that evening. They usually had more than one person singing the lyrics and blending in nice cross-gender harmonies. As such, it was hard to tell if they even had a lead singer, much less if that singer were male or female. Their bright, sweet sound was generally the lowest tempo music of the night, a good segue for the rest of the evening.

The second act was rising sensation The Head and the Heart, hailing from Seattle, Washington, and just signed to their hometown’s most influential record label. They rolled five-deep and once again brought cross-gender harmonies, a fiddle, and a keyboard. Their style was similar in spirit to Buried Beds, with less of an emphasis on folk music. They were more up-tempo at times and usually had no less than three members harmonizing at any given time. Their voices were very strong, and their harmonies were very tight – a real gem to listen to, especially during break-downs when their voices became the music itself. I was very pleased with The Head and the Heart, and I plan on following them more closely.

Dr. Dog came onstage at around 11 to perform a second show in as many nights at the 9:30 Club, in support of their newest album Shame, Shame, which was released in October. They brought with them their psychedelic back-lit stained-glass windows whose bright colors and whimsical shapes sum up the sound we all know from Dr. Dog. Having never seen them live before, I didn’t know if I was surprised or not to see that they rolled six-deep. Their sound dropped the folk off and picked up a little psychedelic and soul. These road-hardened musical poet-warriors tended to go from song to song without breaking the music, and every song sounded both polished and passionate. That behavior made it clear that these guys knew how to be on the road without losing momentum.

In the past, Dr. Dog has been an uphill battle with me; they have two singers who split the load nearly evenly but the tone and rhythm of their songs varies significantly depending on who is singing it. Toby Leaman plays bass and sings more soul-inspired songs, whereas Scott McMicken plays guitar and sings pop-rock songs. Their voices differ significantly, so depending on how you look at it, Dr. Dog is kind of like two bands in one. The problem is, the latter sound has not been my style, so I have historically looked at it as half a band. That is, until I saw them live. Their recorded work does not do their art justice, and really, the only way to experience Dr. Dog is live. Perhaps they know this too, which could have been a factor in playing (and selling out) two nights in a row.

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