Dr. Dog soars before sold-out crowd

Dr. Dog's harmonies - a buoyant blend of Beach Boys and Delfonics - elevated their show at the Electric Factory. File
Dr. Dog's harmonies - a buoyant blend of Beach Boys and Delfonics - elevated their show at the Electric Factory. File
Posted: February 04, 2014

One of the remarkable things about Philadelphia's Dr. Dog - and there are plenty - is how and what this band has changed, and kept the same, since its start in the late 1990s.

Singer-songwriters Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken (who started their partnership under the name Raccoon), along with keyboardist Zach Miller, began their lives as Dogs with a low-fi, pop-psychedelic aesthetic and silly chord changes reflecting their dippy lyrics. Today, there's nothing low-fidelity or daffy about Dr. Dog's words or its grand, aggressive chamber-psych sound - be it the shaggy Be the Void of 2012 or 2013's B-Room, the latter album rich with the plush feel of Philly soul at its most lustrously harmonic.

Those harmonies, and the manner in which their delectable melodies suck you in with their contagion, is the thing that has remained from the start of Leaman and McMicken's joint venture.

Those voices - a buoyant, heart-breaking, sextet blend of the Beach Boys and the Delfonics - is what lifted Friday night's sold-out gig at the Electric Factory from a show to a religious experience, in that every soaring bit of vocal amity rang as sweetly as a church bell and turned the event holy (Friday was the first of two nights, with Saturday's show also sold out).

The audience seemed to levitate when the harmonies hit hardest - be it Dog tunes such as their softest, ticklish ballad, "Too Weak to Ramble," or the merry march of "Heart It Races" (an odd Architecture in Helsinki cover).

Driven by Eric Slick's inventive drumming and gently complex loops, Leaman and McMicken - as they always have - traded warbling leads on tunes whose lyrics seemed to define each singer's personality and circumstance. Leaman's bouncing "Nellie" invoked the birth of his daughter with a joy worn on his sleeve and voiced from his heart. McMicken's walking acoustic "Shadow People," was filled with verbal tics and weirdly impressionist vibes, lyrically and sonically.

While there were blunt, uncomplicated tunes such as "The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer" (and its catcall of "High up on the hill / cheaper than a dollar bill"), Dog songs such as "Broken Heart" and the bubbly "Love" displayed warm, wonky sentiments and had more knotty, harmonic twists than a bag of hot hometown soft pretzels.

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