That Dog Looks Back

May 25th, 2012

That Dog – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 24, 2012

Last night a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd warmly welcomed L.A. band That Dog’s first performance on the East Coast in more than 15 years. “Who in this room has seen us play before?” inquired lead vocalist and guitarist Anna Waronker, who along with violinist-singer Petra Haden, bassist-singer Rachel Haden and drummer Tony Maxwell formed the group back in 1991, releasing three albums before disbanding in 1997. In response to Waronker’s question, a sizable portion of old-school fans let out some hoots and a hearty round of applause.

When Waronker asked for That Dog first-timers to identify themselves, the response was even greater. “Where have you guys come from?” she exclaimed in amazement. It seems that That Dog’s decade-and-a-half absence has opened them up to a slew of new fans. For longtime listeners, there is the ’90s-nostalgia factor in songs like “Grunge Couple” and “Punk Rock Girl,” while new fans are likely drawn in by the catchy three-part harmonies, the observant, off-kilter lyrics on songs like “Long Island” and “Old Timer,” and the unique, wailing screeches Petra Haden occasionally coaxes out of her violin—or perhaps because That Dog’s music gives the impression that they are just having so much fun.

Onstage last night, the band looked to be having a great time: getting a case of the giggles at certain points while singing, spiritedly responding to audience banter and honoring requests for renditions of songs that were not on the planned set list. That Dog seemed to genuinely enjoy revisiting old material and the chance to look back at a different time in their musical careers. Of course, much has changed since that last tour more than 15 years ago, a fact perhaps best evidenced by Waronker’s occasional gaze up toward the balcony, where her young son sat clapping along to Mom’s old music. —Alena Kastin

(That Dog plays Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight.)