Dr. Dog | 07.30.08

drdog.jpg This group’s performance leaves no reason to doubt why they have achieved such success.

 

 

 

 

The Bluebird, St. Louis

 

drdog.jpg

The innocuously named party-folk quintet Dr. Dog stopped by St. Louis last week, in support of a rabidly growing fan base and their latest release, Fate (Rough Trade). Emerging from relative obscurity, the group’s popularity has surged in recent years, joining bands on tour like My Morning Jacket, The Black Keys and The Raconteurs, and playing indie-rock Mecca, Bonnaroo last year. This group’s performance leaves no reason to doubt why they have achieved such success.

Their sound combines an interesting mix of branded, (at-times) cliché, whiskey-fueled folk and radio-friendly pop. Many of their songs are surrounded with three-part harmonies ala The Beatles, or Beach Boys, which give their ashes-to-ashes lyrics a sense of whimsy, and save them from a dreary existence. It can best be described as a combination of grit and optimism. Their breezy melodies, melted with fuzzy guitar, yield something that’s forceful, yet light-hearted enough to coincide with their upbeat approach.

The group’s distinct sound relies mainly on folk influences, but it is often dressed with layers of Beatles-esque do-wop and indie rock’s fresh bravado. A subtle rasp colors lead singer Scott McMicken’s distinctive croons, hinting at thick gravel hidden beneath the surface of boyish youth. It elicits shades of Jeff Tweedy, but just when my comparative cross hairs had centered on the identity of McMicken’s vocal doppelganger, a Wayne Coen-like frailness emerged, adding a more human dimension.

Possibly the most engaging aspect of McMicken’s singing was his delivery. As he fluidly shifted around the microphone, his meandering cadence fell in step with his off-the-cuff guitar licks. Then, when it was time to sing, he’d quickly jump into position, pale neck stretched up to the microphone, head tilted back, and belt out with an imposing conviction. The mic, perched on its thin steel rod, looked strangely innocent by comparison.

Dark sunglasses, black derby, and thick wool slacks adorned McMicken’s small frame and combined for a sort of vagrant look, reminiscent of a young Dylan. As the night progressed, small rings of sweat darkened the thin purple of his shirt, growing to encompass the entire garment. Eventually, moisture covered every inch of his upper body, and most of his lower half. In a brief admission, McMicken said, "I bought this shirt today. I though it was the perfect thing for my late-night life style since it’s so thin…" Pausing a moment to wipe the streams of sweat from his eyes, he stated the obvious, "I think that may have been a mistake." The others were dressed in similar attire, and special note should be made to drummer, Justin Stens, who kept the rhythm while sheepishly grinning behind the stylish low brim of a conductor’s hat.

While allusions to The Beatles, The Band, and The Beach Boys are hard to overlook, Dr. Dog remains something completely unique. Their show was surprisingly eclectic, unquestionably fun, and heart-felt. | Glen Elkins

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