Dr. Dog: Stuck in time, and it’s all good

Posted: May 14, 2010

'Do you feel like you're stuck in time?" sang Dr. Dog's khaki-fedoraed Toby Leaman, a little more than over halfway into the band's homecoming night at the Electric Factory on Thursday.

Yeah, a little. First, the Providence, R.I.-based openers, Deer Tick, covered Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" and ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses" - with vocalist John McCauley donning guess-what? for the latter. And Dr. Dog, the temporally-obsessed main act, is itself prone to songs with titles like "The Old Days" and "My Old Ways," full of sonic callbacks to the Beatles and the Band, to name but two of their many prominent 1960s influences.

The chief drawback of plundering such obvious source material is the inevitable comparisons to the old stuff, and the old stuff will win. But don't tell that to a sold-out crowd that chose to share their night with two of the least-hip under-30 bands currently working.

Dr. Dog has nothing to be ashamed of, actually. This gig constituted a victory lap for more than a decade-long career as grassroots champions in Philadelphia and then nationally: Shame, Shame, the band's seventh and best album, cracked the Billboard Top 50 last month. Or as Leaman tried to make sense of it from the stage: "We've been doing this forever. . . now we're here. . . and you guys are all there."

At which point they launched into "Where'd All the Time Go," which on record is a shadowy soul number with a positively liberating chorus. Live, however, new drummer and Paul Green School of Rock vet Eric Slick kicked it (and several others) into another dimension - from paisley pastiche to thunderous arena-rock.

Likewise, older numbers like "The Rabbit, the Bat and the Reindeer" pounded where they once creaked; the "oh yeahs" in "Army of Ancients" towered over the room. The newer stuff, like the opening "Stranger" and the Spoon-like "Unbearable Why," stood out even without the extra juice, with the secret weapon of Zach Miller's keyboard sneaking in hooks to nail down the ambitious harmonies and widescreen arrangements underneath the three vocalists' jumpy interplay. Guitarists Frank McElroy and Scott McMicken traded raps on the swung "Mirror, Mirror" and thrashed their downstrokes in unison to send off "Someday."

If you were casting about for a similar retro-pop live show to match this band's fervor, you wouldn't find one in Elliott Smith's or the Format's heyday. Not even Spoon's. And they keep it up for long past your money's worth, at almost two hours - tiring for dabblers, great for acolytes.

And without much assistance from the website Pitchfork or radio, acolytes are more plentiful than ever. As the greatest song of the night inquired, in a winsome Flaming Lips-style quaver, "Where do all the shadow people go?" We assume they got stuck in time, and that more will be joining them.

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