Dr. Dog brings eclectic excitement to the Skyline Stage
Photo by Rachel Barrish | rachelbarrish.com

On Saturday night, Dr. Dog treated us to an all-night party at the Mann Skyline Stage sharing the spotlight with Hop Along, The Front Bottoms, and Mac Demarco.  At first glance, this line-up sounds like it might not work but as proven by the end of the night, Dr. Dog is open to many sonic adventures, so it only makes sense that in their hometown, they took a chance and exposed their fan base to some music that may go against your average tour promoter’s instincts.

As soon as the gates opened, many a hoodied 20-something rushed towards the front of the stage to get a good spot for the openers.  Hop Along played for only 30 minutes but they made it count.  The band played favorites from their last album, the amazing Get Disowned, the Shaking Through single “Sister Cities,” and played two new songs that continue their trajectory to the greatest band I’ve heard since Throwing Muses blew my mind in the late-80’s. No matter how many times I hear “Tibetan Pop Stars,” it remains to me one of the most beautiful rock songs of the 2010’s.

The Front Bottoms | Photo by John Vettese

The Front Bottoms took the stage next and had the crowd in the palms of its hands from the strum of the first chord on the opener “Skeleton.”  Fans sang along to every word and crowd surfing commenced.  Despite the band’s sound being mostly acoustic, The Front Bottoms were definitely rocking out with a sound that is a mix of pop punk and a hint of mid-career Mountain Goats.  And yes, the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubemen made an appearance onstage as well. Mac Demarco followed with a hyper energized set. His between song banter was reminiscent of Bobcat Goldthwait, whereas the music was a cross between Andrew WK and Jimmy Buffet which believe it or not, made for a great segue from the night’s punky opening to the main act.

Dr. Dog took the stage around 9 and went heavy on the new songs, particularly their last two albums Be the Void and B-Room. The band seems to be pulling back from their (perhaps unfair) reputation as a crowd-pleasing Beatles-tinged outfit to a more nuanced affair.  Surrounded by greenery and playing in front of a landscape painting, the band tore into We All Belong’s “My Old Ways,” to start things off and then the rocker “These Days,” from Void.  From there, the audience was treated to a wide-ranging mix of what Dr. Dog is capable of:  the down-home sounds in “Distant Light,” and bluegrass “Phenomenon” (aided by Sarah Larsen from West Philly’s Ladybird on fiddle) to the electronic “Heavy Light,”  the funky “Long Way Down,” and the philosophical rocker “Be the Void.”  They only played three songs from their mainstream hit album Fate and the popular “The Ark,” came across as a bit half-hearted.  The usual intensity seemed to be missing but I still dug the guitar harmonies after each repetition of the chorus.

Before you think Dr. Dog forgot that they were playing to a hometown crowd who have loved them since their low-fi days, the guys played the rare “We All Belong” which Scott dedicated to his mother and the 7 song encore included both “Today,” and of course “Wake Up” from Easy Beat. All of the older tunes were reinvigorated by new arrangements that highlighted Eric Slick’s jazzy fills along with Dimitri Manos’ smoking guitar solos and Zach Miller’s soulful keyboard work.

Coming home from the show last night, I couldn’t put my finger on what was so different about Dr. Dog’s show compared to other times I have seen them.  Then I thought about why I have enjoyed Be the Void and B-Room so much.  These last two albums are the band being more confident in what they want as musicians and are not afraid to try something new. The entire line-up at the Mann were bands that have a self-assured vision and a strong connection to their audience.  Despite what the iTunes charts may show, this is a very exciting time for music. Sometimes you need to know where to look, and other times a successful band brings the excitement to you.

Dr. Dog Setlist
My Old Ways
These Days
That Old Black Hole
Distant Light
The Beach
Heavy Light
Broken Heart
Long Way Down
The Truth
Army of Ancients
Be The Void
The Ark
Livin’ A Dream
Heart It Races
We All Belong

Rock N’ Roll
How Long Must I Wait
Too Weak to Ramble
Shadow People
Wake Up

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