Dr. Dog – Rumsey Playfield – September 20, 2012
Dependability is an underrated virtue for a rock band, almost necessarily so. It’s easy to take for granted when a group consistently performs excellently. There are the notable exceptions—Bruce Springsteen, U2 and, increasingly so, the Flaming Lips—but for the most part, the bands that trot out day by day to entertain with predictable flair are seen as owing something, rather than appreciated for their reliability. Still, every night can feel special in its own way, and last night at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, Dr. Dog, one of rock’s soon-to-be steady hands, played a strong set of favorites as well as providing some signature moments.
Dr. Dog is Philadelphia’s most notable indie-rock band, comprised of Toby Leaman (bass guitar and lead vocals), Scott McMicken (lead guitar and lead vocals), Frank McElroy (rhythm guitar), Zach Miller (keyboard) and Eric Slick (drums). Over the course of seven albums, most recently Be the Void, they have created and perfected a sound that borrows familiar classic-rock elements, such as the Beatles’ and Beach Boys’ harmonies and pop maximalism, in addition to adding their own unique touch. The vocal interplay between Leaman and McMicken is thrilling: Leaman growls and yells while McMicken exercises his falsetto. And with a growing catalog of favorites, the group is able to play extended crowd-pleasing shows.
On Thursday night, Dr. Dog began with Shame, Shame’s “Shadow People.” They played behind an altered American flag with neon colors and only three stars (the symbolism escaped me). Quickly, they settled into the pattern of slow opening verses leading to huge climactic choruses, with harmonized oohs and aahs. Some cute touches were added to “I Only Wear Blue” and “The Old Days” when an electronic effect such as a horse nay and hand claps were added. But the big and memorable moment came when Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez stumbled onto the stage during “Worst Trip.” With a shaker in hand, he jumped around and eventually made his way atop Leaman’s shoulders for the end of the song. And as the bassist, somewhat startled, explained, the two groups have been touring for a while. Another example of how, even after so long, the expected can produce the expected. —Jared Levy