By Michael Lello
Photos by Jason Riedmiller
There are a few ways to approach playing in a space that’s smaller than the venues you’re used to. You can strip things down, sonically and visually – the less-is-more strategy. Or you can cram the band and its full complement of equipment on the smaller stage and let ’er rip.
During a sold-out run of eight New York City shows, Dr. Dog took the latter approach, holding nothing back at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan and the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where we took in the Sunday, Jan. 11 show. From the spooky, fuzzed-out introductory notes of “The Girl” to the jubilant, cathartic choruses of “Old Black Hole,” there was nothing intimate about the performance, as the 6-piece Philadelphia group pummeled every corner of the 550-person-capacity room.
The nasty, heavy psychedelia of “The Girl” already in the rear-view, bassist and co-frontman Toby Leaman led Dr. Dog into “Hang On,” the alternately cheery and dark number. Like many of Dr. Dog’s songs, it has undergone significant changes from the album to the stage; this lilting take sprung from an ethereal intro and was played with much more bounce than the original version on 2008’s “Fate.” Another tweak: Leaman sang the final line a cappella.
Scott McMicken, who also fronts the group, left his guitar post for bass duties on the jittery “Broken Heart,” with Leaman on acoustic guitars and enthusiastic lead vocals. “Mystery To Me,” from the band’s lo-fi days and 2002 album “Toothbrush,” with Zach Miller’s swirling organ and mid-tempo, rustic vibe, recalled The Band.
The high points kept coming that Sunday night – Leaman’s macabre “The Beach,” McMicken’s triumphant “Mirror, Mirror,” the loose-limbed funk rock of “How Long Must I Wait?,” the funereal “Too Weak To Ramble.”
The one-two punch of the sun-drenched “We All Belong” and the syncopated and surreal “Army of Ancients,” complete with Dr. Dog’s trademark throwback “ooh” and “ahh” harmony vocals, was a late-set highlight. The band then powered through the rest of the set proper, with the always-dance-inducing “Heart It Races”; Leaman’s stomping sing-along, “Nellie”; and McMicken’s hypnotic “Heavy Light,” built on tropical tropes appropriate for the palm tree-décor with which the band decorated the venue to promote the release of its first live album, “Live From A Flamingo Hotel.”
Dr. Dog returned for a 6-song encore: “These Days,” “Today,” “Lonesome,” “California,” “Die, Die, Die” and “Old Black Hole,” spanning more than 10 years of music and a slew of albums and EPs. The encore segment was juiced up by the return to the stage of Elvis Perkins in Dearland, who played a remarkable opening set. The simple “Lonesome,” in particular, benefited from the 11-musician treatment, with some players banging on whatever percussion implement they could find while belting out the big chorus.