Photo by Mike Rosati
Folks were ready to start when Dr. Dog came on stage Saturday night at The Warfield. The conversations dropped immediately as the lights went down and the six-piece Philadelphia band took the stage. United in their attention, with their shoulders relaxed, necks loose and sunglasses on, the crowd got ready for the jams.
And the jams got on. Dr. Dog got on strong, setting a solid groundwork in sound and mood and with delicate control over the atmosphere. The guys performed in a playful and optimistic manner, happy and confident in their individual styles. With a rainbow lighting the stage and a big marquee topped with a light bulb lined arrow pointing to the band reading, “Dr. Dog – Live in the Tenderloin!” their set was off to bouncy start.
But everything changed near the middle of the set. The lights went red, the bass became overwhelming and we were taken into the underworld with “The Beach.” A swingy hypnotic chant was sung by bass player, Toby Leaman, with his gravelly quiver and powerful yell. His character was desperate and broken yet enduring with enough strength to tell the tale of fate’s unwavering promise. I’m convinced Dr. Dog cast a spell on us at that moment, leaving us only to cheer for more.
It was this song that hooked me and displayed the band’s versatility. If you’ve never heard Dr. Dog, their sound at its core is sunny, jammy rock well layered with solid tempos and catchy guitar riffs, always saturated with beautiful harmonies inviting you to sing along. But it’s obvious that this band’s musical tastes are broad reaching and that their music comes from diverse influences. At times, you can find them foot stomping and knee slapping in twangy folk. In others, they are heavily steeped in psychedelia in a space of experimentation and spontaneity. And, more recently, they’ve allowed soul and Motown roots to take hold, smoothing out their vibe. These contrasting tastes could easily turn sour if mixed improperly, but Dr. Dog’s set choices were spot on and well-crafted, giving good contrast between songs while building momentum.
The mood shined bright in the crowd and by mid-set, everyone was in it. Throughout the evening, people left the upper levels of The Warfield to fill the ground floor and join the ones who knew where to be. The overall feeling, for me, was love. And I hope that doesn’t come off as corny or lame because, after all, love is the least lame thing there is. Around me, there were groups of friends singing gleefully along together, lovers embracing and dancing in sync, and new single-use show buddies feeling the beat and sharing their supplies. And there was love from the band too. Turning on the house lights multiple times, they thanks us genuinely and with humility.
The best example of this enthusiasm and connectedness was crowd favorite, “Jackie Wants a Black Eye.” From the first organ notes and bright backup harmonies, this song of camaraderie and friendship united the crowd. Folks sang this song as if they were driving down the highway with the windows down, feeling it deep and giving as much as the band was. And if that wasn’t the song of the night, the follow-up was, “Heart It Races.” One of their best known songs, this catchy and well-done Architecture in Helsinki cover had everyone moving.
Saturday night’s show was one that reminds you that you don’t see performances like this every time out. And I’m thankful for that because the contrast is really what reminds you to not take a solid, well-polished, worked-on performance for granted. For the nearly two hours they played, Dr. Dog was in full control and I liked it. In their last song of the night, they relinquished this control, let their guard down and jammed with each other. After playing with each other for 15 years, the fun the band’s members had in their last moments on stage said it all and showed that, ultimately, making good music comes from enjoying it.