Photos by: Charlie Homo
Everyone loves a homegrown success story. And whether you caught The Dodos‘ Meric Long as a fledgling picker, shoegazing through bangs and armed with loop pedals and two microphones (one always bleeding reverb nearly at ear’s might) at Hotel Utah, the Make-Out Room or a myriad of other intimate venues dotted around the Bay Area, it’s now simply fodder for the nostalgic among us. For most of Thursday evening’s grand production at the Palace of Fine Arts, Meric himself seemed in awe of just how far he and his musical comrades have (well deservedly) come.
Being a virgin to the PFA concert series, and feeling a bit like a deer in the headlights in the lobby among a smattering of “date night” attendees, I settled in quickly with a moderately-priced IPA and a piece of cellophane pound cake, hunkering down into the dusty velvet seats of high school auditorium lore. To its credit, the Palace’s fine acoustics were immediately apparent, as the night began with a series of quasi-experimental compositions featuring a cellist and percussionist from The Magik Magik Orchestra, and even a surprise vocal guest appearance by local music sage, John Vanderslice.
The Dodos’ first set (sans orchestra) resurrected some of the finer tunes of their older catalog, like “The Ball” and “Trades & Tariffs”, from the oft overlooked debut, Beware of the Maniacs. An unlikely combination of virtuosic fingerpicking interludes and vague Morrissey affectations still permeate this material, and yes, this is a good thing. You know what’s also a good thing? Seeing The Dodos in the summer, outdoors at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur absolutely losing their shit on stage in some kind of cosmic El NiÃ±o coastal breeze frenzy. Too good of a thing — just to contextualize my last experience at hand.
However, as part two of the evening ensued with The Magik Magik Orchestra in tow, The Dodos reached new highs in a format that was obviously foreign to them. Something tells me that the last-minute rehearsals leading up to this venture were nearly as transcendent for the three bandmates. Relinquishing control of your tried and true compositions — which have been tested throughout two years of heavy touring — to a few dozen orchestra whiz kids and a small choir of angels must open the ears quite wide.
The experiment was well, just that, embodied with breathtaking highs like the reprise version of “Ashley”, and admirably artful arrangements of tunes predominantly culled from their latest release Time to Die, that felt somewhat restrained. Either way, the air was heavy with awe, although its usual sources, Meric’s fall-off-the-chair strummings, drummer Logan Kroeber’s passive-aggressive polyrhythms and vibraphonist Keaton Snyder’s melodic pointedness, were noticeably conditioned by the talented hands of the MMO.
Closing with a duet of the spare ballad “Undeclared”, Meric and one of the angels from the orchestra capped an evening that showcased a more nuanced and vocal-oriented Dodos architecture. As with any first date, though, it’s safe to say some fun trouble lies ahead.