Show Review

Dr. Dog @ Newport Music Hall, 2/1/12

Brian Ahnmark
The recipe for the Dr. Dog live spectacle combines heaping doses of exuberance and musicianship, with a sweet glaze of weirdness to ice the cake. But the foundation is the songs – meticulously crafted with loving care, their inventive arrangements offering constant sonic surprise, delivered with gusto.

'Twas a hearty portion of 22 tunes served piping hot at the Philadelphia outfit's February 1 concert at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus. There were certainly no signs of jitters at this inaugural show of the band's tour in support of Be The Void , due out February 7. The sextet clearly relished the opportunity to share new music, opening with lead single “That Old Black Hole.” Even with its shiny new gloss, it's one of the finest compositions of the band's career, growing teeth from Toby Leaman's threatening bass melody, stumbling into a dizzying carousel-keyboard bridge, then sprinting breathlessly to the finish line with a cacophony of cymbals and guitars.

Dr. Dog would ultimately play six cuts from Be The Void , which has been touted as a heavier, guitar-oriented album intended to replicate the spirit of their live shows. Not a bad game plan, as the band's intense and satisfying set whipped the crowded hall into a frenzy.

While the new material was warmly received, older tunes elicited a fanatical response and some spirited dance floor boogie. “The Breeze” and “The Ark,” both from 2008's Fate , sounded as crisp as the day they were conceived. The three-part harmonies of Leaman, Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy blasted from the monitors with astonishing precision and clarity. Dr. Dog's penchant for climactic finales was on full display, particularly on the beautiful “I Only Wear Blue” and a hyperactive “Mirror, Mirror,” both from 2010's Shame, Shame .

Leaman, McMicken and McElroy are all consummate showmen, bounding about the stage with abandon. During “The Rabbit, The Bat & The Reindeer,” McMicken's guitar strap snapped just before his solo. Not to worry; he simply wedged his guitar into the crook of his elbow for a few spirited bars, then collapsed to his knees to furiously lash out the final notes.

A number of unique production quirks also added to the ambiance and celebratory atmosphere. Prior to the band's entrance, a fully-suited astronaut appeared and aimed a bullhorn at the crowd (message unintelligible). As is their custom, the band members sported stocking caps and sunglasses (Yes, for an indoor show at night). The stage itself looked like a high school musical set, a cozy backdrop resplendent with signs (Warrior Man Rules!) and a list of upcoming tour dates (“Pheonix” charmingly misspelled), with a door in the corner for entry and exit.

It felt as though the band had invited everyone to their rehearsal space for a loose gig.
A four-song encore included one new tune – “Warrior Man,” with a bellyflop of an ending – a lush acoustic rendering of “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” and two deep cuts from the back catalog, “The Way The Lazy Do” and a cover of “Heart It Races” by Architecture In Helsinki. This career-spanning dessert was a showcase of the band's consistency, with a little taste for everyone. And home went the listeners, full to the eardrums with the sweet and savory flavors of a serving of Dr. Dog.

Great service, too.