By Mandi Kimes
The last few times Dr. Dog have rolled through Phoenix, they played two shows at Crescent Ballroom back-to-back, sometimes in the same night, which grew to sold out numbers. It was only a matter of time before the band moved to a larger venue for just one night of performing. This time around, they played Marquee Theatre, which is about five times the size of Crescent Ballroom, and was filled about halfway last night. This was the first time in a while that I was at Marquee where the show wasn’t sold out, so the amount of space I had around me was a dream; however, belligerent drunks still found a way to bump into me when walking past. Stumbling through the crowd isn’t how I would normally choose to experience Dr Dog, but whatever; you do you!
Before the band graced the stage, the stage went dark and you could hear an 80s dance version of their latest single “Badvertise” being played through the system. Dr. Dog filed onto the stage one by one and jumped right into “Holes in My Back” a slow, driving ballad from their album Psychedelic Swamp. And just like the album, they moved right into “Fire on My Back,” during which Eric Slick never stopped playing drums, even through the transition. To keep with the momentum of Psychedelic Swamp, Dimitri Manos laid on the shakers for the groovy introduction to “Bring My Baby Back,” the second single from the album; and I must say, the percussive ornamentation on this song is the extra added spice that completes the song. The band ended up changing the key for the live version, and I believe it suits it better than what’s heard on the record. The audience swayed to the lulling groove of the tune, and Toby Leaman displayed his impressive dynamic range with his vocals. And within this song, the vocal three-part harmonies that draw me to Dr. Dog are introduced: the kind that doesn’t draw the attention away from the lead singer, but add that shimmer, even if it’s just “oohs” and “aahs” and not the actual lyrics.
Straying away from the new album, Scott McMicken played the recognizable high-pitched guitar riff that could only mean that they were transitioning into “How Long Must I Wait?” Whenever I find myself in impatient situations, I often think of this song. The shakers in this song really drive the music forward and the live version is a bit faster than the version on the Be The Void album. Leaman’s bass really kicks the song into over-dive during the second half. Zach Miller then played a ragtime-sounding transition into “Hang On,” dating back to 2008’s Fate album. This song always made me think of The Rolling Stones' “You Can’t Always Get what You Want,” and the live version had the same flair. McMicken’s guitar really wailed during the instrumental interlude, which reminded me that I was in for a treat for the rest of the show.
Next came “Ain’t It Strange,” which is a song I always find interesting because so many Dr. Dog song titles are referenced in this song, yet the titles they reference are songs that have yet to be released. While the song itself is very interesting, what I find most fascinating are again the vocal harmonies; it’s as if The Beatles wrote this song in the second half of their career. At the end of the song, the band sang their Barbershop-inspired “Bum-bum-bum” to create a beautiful melody between McMicken, Leaman, and Frank McElroy before launching into a jam session, where the whole stage lit up with rainbow lights. And just like We All Belong fashion, the song transitioned into “Worst Trip,” which had the whole audience singing “Is this the worst trip that you’ve ever been oooooonn?” While the song missed the brass section, McMicken and McElroy made up for it in their guitar duet, which complemented each other very well. This song caused the three singers to jump and move across the stage.
Before transitioning into the Shame Shame portion of the show, McMicken switches to an acoustic guitar, and it’s hear that I realize this is probably the first time Slick has actually stopped playing drums. MicMicken begins playing “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” and the whole audience begins singing along and swaying with the groove. I think I found the crowd favorite, especially when everyone sang loudly with the band during the chorus: “We’re all in it together now // As we all fall apart // We’re swapping little pieces // Of our broken little hearts,” and eventually singing along to the “aah” interlude. The organ from Miller begins “Shame, Shame,” which is actually a pretty swampy ballad. The transition into the bridge is intense, with flashing lights and a riveting drum fill and electrifying guitars. McMicken is a jumpy little man; the energy on stage is so infectious. How they’re able to move and dance across the stage every night without tiring is amazing.
McMicken started “The Breeze” on just an acoustic guitar, and the whole audience reacted similarly to the previously heard “Jackie Wants a Black Eye:” singing along, swaying with the “breeze,” and all around going crazy. I myself was moving uncontrollably, as this was “my Dr. Dog song,” the song I first heard from them that told me “Ok this is a band I think I’m going to like,” especially since the lyrics of the song are some of my favorite lyrics ever written. Leaman sang the verse about “dark parts in your mind” with his dynamic voice. The only thing I missed from this performance was the dueling clarinets in the end, but it was totally okay because I fan-girled like crazy to this song.
Charting into B-Room territory, McMicken and Leaman switched instruments to perform “Broken Heart,” which continued the momentum of audience participation in dancing and singing along, and lots of clapping along. I never realized that that roaring electric guitar solo on this song was actually done by McElroy, typically the rhythm guitar player, and I was thoroughly impressed. Miller’s chugging piano lead right into “The Rabbit, the Bat & the Reindeer,” which is always a feel-good song for any situation. Seriously, no one can beat these three-part harmonies; maybe The Staves, but no one else. I’m glad the show wasn’t sold out, because it allowed for people to really dance; not just swaying, but legitimately grabbing their partner by both hands and twirling and moving in circles. The last chorus with the Slick’s drums and McMicken singing is so funky. The last time I saw them play this – which was exactly a year ago – they extended the outro into a jam session with lots of lights and elaborate guitar work.
To play one more song from their new album before returning to older hits, Dr. Dog brought out an Arizonan saxophone player, whose name I wasn’t able to catch, to play on “Engineer Says,” which is the swampy sluggish reprise to “Bring My Baby Back.” This song is so swampy that it could fit on Iron & Wine’s Zydeco-inspired The Shepherd’s Dog album. The saxophonist played a gnarly tenor saxophone with so much snarl during the second half of the song. I could hear his higher parts, but not so much his lows.
They played a song I featured on my February playlist called “These Days,” which was even more intense live. The guitar melody is so catchy, and I’m glad I could see it implemented live. I didn’t realize how surfy the drum beat was until people were bobbing along to it like I’d see them do so for a surf song. The three singers on stage did a lot of running in place on stage during this song. To continue with Be The Void, they played “That Old Black Hole,” which was rocking throughout the whole song, all the way through the circus-sounding bridge and punchy last chorus. They ended the set with “Heart It Races,” a cover song by Architecture in Helsinki that they are famous for playing. They invited members from opening band Hop Along onstage to play with them, and the whole audience sang along to “Boom-da-da-da-da-da,” even if they didn’t know the actual lyrics.
They left the stage, and I knew they had to do an encore. After much chanting of “DOC-TOR-DOG” from the audience – which sounds an awful lot like “ONE MORE SONG” – Dr. Dog came back to play “The Truth,” which was another crowd favorite from the night. The guitar duet is 100% more apparent live than it is on the B-Room record. One thing to note about Dr. Dog’s harmonies: sometimes McMicken will sing a melody line and Leaman will come in during his breaks to sing an “aah” or a repeating line. McElroy sings harmonies on both of those, and never misses a lyrics or a note. He is the chief backup singer, and I tip my hat to him. When they sang “Let the rain fall,” the disco ball started turning and the light blue backdrop filled the room with the image of a night sky. They played “The Beach” next, a dark bluesy ballad that is probably my least favorite Dr. Dog song. For their fourth and final song, Miller came up front and grabbed a slide guitar while Leaman handed his bass over to McMicken, which could only mean one thing: it was time for “Lonesome.” Everyone loves this song, and everyone lifted up their fists for each “Hey!” as Leaman played a charming frontman for their last song. Miller’s slide guitar is really the component that really makes this song.
It is physically impossible to not have fun at a Dr. Dog show. They are a band that is not afraid to have fun playing their own music. In addition, they also have the best lighting for a live band, in my opinion. There was surprisingly not a lot of Psychedelic Swamp material on this tour, but they played so many of their classic songs that the audience had too much fun jamming to some of their favorites.