Ever see a band play live and you spend the whole show fixating on one band member’s playing, partly because he’s really good but also because his surrounding cast isn’t? That was my Saturday night at Emo’s (May 1).
Dr. Dog took the stage for an hour and 20 minutes, and I spent most of that watching and listening to Toby Leaman’s bass-playing. He’s one of the few indie-rock bassists who has a natural, effortless sense of feel and rhythm, even sounding downright dubby at times. He could slow it down with casual yet heavy bass licks or he could get punchy with quick staccato flicks. Regardless of the tempo or volume, Leaman’s bass always seemed to be the driving force of the songs. Basically, the dude can groove.
Here’s the bad news: Thinking back on this 80-minute set, not one memorable guitar riff or chord progression comes to mind, and there were two guitarists on stage. The drummer was basically a time-keeper with no feel or imagination, and I didn’t even notice there was a keyboardist until at least 20 minutes in. The most memorable part of watching lead guitarist Scott McMicken was wondering if there was an octogenarian missing her cataracts sunglasses somewhere in the world.
I didn’t hate Dr. Dog; they were okay. But that’s the problem: If you’re gonna sell out a large club and play for the same length of time as it takes to drive from Austin to San Antonio, you better damn well bring it. And bring it they didn’t. If you want to hold your fans’ attention for more than the standard 45-minute set, you better be more than okay. You better be prepared to melt faces. But the only thing melting was the ice cubes in my second Jack and Coke as I constantly eyeballed my phone, waiting for the show to end already. Even the pseudo-hipster brosephs who were drunkenly swaying and singing along to every song left at about the hour mark. The problem is that every Dr. Dog song sounds the same. The same key with the same tempo, more or less, so what’s the difference between sticking around for 12 songs versus 20?
This isn’t to say the Philadelphia quintet was greeted with disappointment from the packed crowd. The majority of audience members seemed to really dig the Dog, but the majority of the audience were also underage girls who seemed to be at their first concert. And that makes total sense, really. Dr. Dog occupies that indie rock realm of non-threatening inoffensiveness with a pinch of eccentricity that appeals to self-conscious fashionable females between the ages of 16 and 22. That was reflected in the audience, as there was a sea of skinny brunettes with black Xs on the back of their hands. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, or holding it against them; everyone’s musical taste has to start evolving somewhere. Dr. Dog is indie-rock training wheels, which is why if I had a little sister wanting to branch out from the mainstream radio cesspool, I would totally bring her along to a Dr. Dog show. But for a mid-20-something dude with a decent record collection? I’d tell him to just stay home. Unless, of course, he was looking to pick up cute, impressionable chicks. In which case, jackpot!
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