By Michael Lello
Photos by Jason Riedmiller
NEW YORK – “Consistent” isn’t the most exciting thing you can say about a band (or anything, really), but it’s a high compliment to give to a group like Dr. Dog.
With 15 years under its belt, it has had many opportunities to slip up and release a bomb of an album or put on a live show that wasn’t up to its usual standards.
It hasn’t happened yet.
During a 21-song set at Terminal 5 on Saturday night, one couldn’t help but think how solid (another non-exciting modifier) the band is, as it navigated from ’60s soul to jumpy indie rock in a concert that spanned the Philadelphia outfit’s various musical interests, styles and much of its catalog.
Taking the stage – which was decorated with a large arch which contained lights, as well as a roadside marquee with the snap-on letters “DR DOG LETS GO MARS” – the band slipped confidently into “Ain’t It Strange” from 2007’s “We All Belong.” Comfortable and laidback, it was a nice way to ease the sold-out crowd into the show, before the band amped up the outro, Scott McMicken taking a jagged guitar solo while he and bassist Toby Leaman bounced around the stage.
Leaman took over lead vocal duties from McMicken for “Distant Light,” a jubilant track and one of the better selections from Dr. Dog’s recently released “B-Room,” before McMicken was back in charge for “Old Black Hole,” from 2012’s “Be The Void” – the third album covered in the show’s first three songs. Like many of the songs Saturday night, “Old Black Hole” started with a stylized introduction – this one with utility player Dimitri Panos leading the way on percussion — which often gave band members some time to switch instruments between songs. The band’s usual division of labor was less strict during the recording of “B-Room,” an approach that has made its way onto the concert stage.
Other early highlights included a breezy take on the “B-Room” tune “The Truth,” with wall-of-sound instrumentation giving the song a strong but hazy structure, which was contrasted sharply and effectively with fellow “B-Room” song “Broken Heart.” For the latter, Leaman switched to guitar while McMicken played bass on the twitchy and danceable track, the kind of song that feels tied to past styles while sounding exactly like Dr. Dog.
Following the relatively obscure “Oh Me Oh My” from odds-and-ends EP “Passed Away, Vol. 1,” which included a nice spotlighted moment for Zach Miller on piano, Miller switched to guitar and McMicken took to the keyboards for the scuzzy ’70s rock of “Cuckoo,” from “B-Room.” Again, the band’s newfound holistic philosophy – different members contributing on different instruments, whatever the song might call for – was at work, and while instrument-switching can be a stage gimmick, each member showed a proficiency on whatever instrument they touched, and the songs were the better for it.
Drummer Eric Slick built a bongo-and-drumkit intro for “Heavy Light,” which featured a happy-sounding chorus and some nice keyboard textures by Miller, a lengthy instrumental section and a buildup into the song proper, with strong harmony vocals all around. “Nellie,” yet another “B-Room” selection, was powerful, with Leaman singing the dusty and rustic tune with palpable and direct emotion.
Leaman snarled through the ruminative “The Beach,” from 2008’s “Fate,” one of the band’s top albums. He sang with his bass slung onto his back over one shoulder while he gesticulated and delivered the song with passion.
“Jackie Wants A Black Eye,” with McMicken on lead vocals, and the Architecture In Helsinki cover “Heart It Races,” which has become a live standout for Dr. Dog, preceded “Shadow People,” complete with a mellow acoustic intro, and the simple sing-along “Lonesome,” which closed the set.
Dr. Dog’s encores were some of the evening’s best moments, with signature tunes like “The Stranger” and the good-natured “The Breeze” as well as Leaman’s poignant bone-weary “Too Weak To Ramble,” from “B-Room.” The peppy and typically odd “Oh No,” from 2005’s “Easy Beat,” wrapped up the show.
Dr. Dog’s opening acts are hit and miss, but this tour’s Saint Rich is earning its right to be on the bill. White jean-jacketed frontman Christian Peslak was part Ryan Adams and even more parts Mick Jagger, leading the group – formed by Peslak and Delicate Steve bandmate Steve Marion – through a crunchy, glammy set that would please fans of groups like Smith Westerns, The Whigs and Free Energy.