Dr. Dog Warehouse Live November 13, 2010
Fans packed into Warehouse Live Saturday as Houston's temperatures dropped from balmy to brisk in what seemed like minutes. But the crowd had clearly braced themselves for such conditions, breaking out their seldom-used winter accessories to face the cold (we even spotted fleece!).
Philadelphia natives Dr. Dog, undoubtedly more accustomed to wintry weather than us Southerners, also dressed for the chill, clad in cozy knit beanies, each inscribed with their band name.
Touring in support of latest release Shame, Shame, the bearded, beanied quintet (who also donned their usual sunglasses) took the stage against a colorful polka-dot backdrop. Shame's "Mirror Mirror" kicked off the evening, followed by fellow newbie, the singsong "Stranger," both tunes instantly unveiling Dr. Dog's trademark three-part harmonies.
Shame material dominated the show's first half, continuing with the bluesy hymnal-esque "I Only Wear Blue," singers Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman splitting vocal duties throughout the set.
While the band's signature style proved consistent as the show progressed, a few noticeable differences struck us immediately: Last time Dr. Dog came to town, they also played Warehouse Live's studio room - although it was considerably cozier this time around.
In 2008, they visited the even more intimate Walter's on Washington. Such an obvious acknowledgement made us curious to see how the group would manage a considerably larger crowd.
The second difference: The lights. The incessant, fluorescent and occasionally strobing light show was hard to overlook. We struggled to remember a past Dr. Dog show that boasted a traveling light spectacle. But as the night progressed, we realized the band is perhaps in the thick of what we ideally expect of our favorite groups; they are growing, progressing.
Actually, when looking past the uncharacteristic light show and noticeably broader fan base, it seemed Dr. Dog was right on track for making the transition from indie nightclub act to mid-size venue headliner.
Saturday's set was sprinkled with Dr. Dog's thumbprint sound: Melodic, vocally driven chamber pop, tinged with quirky dots of '60s psychedelia and woodsy folk-rock.
The set list spanned the band's catalogue, revisiting 2007's We All Belong with "Worst Trip" and 2008's Fate with the stormy "The Beach," and its variant counterpart, the lackadaisical "The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer." The jangly opening piano notes of Fate's "Hang On" drew instant approval from the crowd, who over mid-way into the set seemed to have as much danceable energy as they began with.
Songs generally seemed more polished, spawning a slicker incarnation of Dr. Dog, a band whose previous stripped, roots-ier live delivery we'd grown accustomed. Such slickness makes sense; Shame Shame, the band's first release on their new label ANTI, offers heavier, cleaner overall production, not to mention a helping hand from My Morning Jacket's Jim James on the record's title track.
While Dr. Dog may wear their palpable influences on their sleeves - the Beach Boys, CSN&Y, Built to Spill, and most noticeably The Beatles - they borrow such inspiration tastefully, their layered harmonies building upon strong melodies.
As the show progressed, it became clear that Dr. Dog has a loyal Houston fanbase; the crowd proved tireless, singing along with each song. They were there for the music, which was good, considering the band evidently preferred plowing through their set list to addressing the crowd much.
Shame's "Shadow People" was a standout, its harmonic chorus practically begging for the crowd singalong it dutifully received. The new, unreleased "Black-Red" provided a funky, bass-centric compliment to the band's otherwise Shame-heavy set list.
Another unreleased song, "Nobody Knows Who You Are" offered a dose of sunny organ-laden baroque-pop; both tunes leaving us with a taste of the band's next move. The jangly piano melody of "We All Belong" progressed to a full-out atmospheric breakdown, ultimately closing out the first set.
Each song, almost expectedly, showcased the band's strongest attribute: Their unwavering vocal harmonies. Though Dr. Dog is surely not a one-trick-pony, those left craving more variety were still in for a treat. The band returned to the stage for a welcome encore of
"Jackie Wants a Black Eye," followed by a funky cover of Architecture in Helsinki's "Heart It Races" and Easy Beat's "Oh No," which ignited a crowd clap-along. After thanking the crowd, Dr. Dog left the stage, beanies and shades in tow.
Looking back, Dr. Dog's set ran the course of an unattainable ex-lover: They excited us, they showed off for us with a sparkly light show and they played what we wanted to hear.
Then they trailed off a bit with some indulgent harmonies and sped through potentially tender moments, only to reel us right back in with a stellar encore, and ultimately leave us wanting more.
Don't act like you don't know what we're talking about.
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Personal Bias: A strong setlist though it was, we'd have fancied hearing "The Old Days" or "Today."
The Crowd: A mix of 420-friendly new-age hippies, some North Face-clad bros and many well-versed superfans.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Let's just say you wouldn't want your parents sleeping on that air mattress."
Random Notebook Dump: Having bought too much band merch in the '90s to last us a lifetime, merch booths often bore us. Such isn't the case with Dr. Dog's; they offer an array of artistically crafted tees, tote bags, hoodies, vinyl and koozies.