by ANDREW DANIELS
In "The Way The Lazy Do", a standout track from Dr. Dog's 2007 album We All Belong, co-frontman Scott McMicken sings, "It's just that time of year/ that brings them here." On a beautiful August night in center city Philadelphia, hundreds of music fans and curious passersby gathered together to hear the soulful pop of Dr. Dog. It could've been the weather, like McMicken alludes to in the song. It could've been a chance to encounter one of the country's premier live bands, up close and personal. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was all free. Wednesday night marked the first of four weekly concerts held in Philly's historic Rittenhouse Square, presented by Philadelphia Weekly. The city of brotherly love's own Dr. Dog played a triumphant, rousing hometown show, and by the end of the night had converted an entire park into believers.
Full review and pictures after the jump.
The band took to the stage -- a modest plywood creation akin to something one would find for picnic entertainment -- around 7:30 p.m., when the sun was just beginning to set. The front and both sides of the stage were lined with throngs of Dr. Dog hardcores, but there was ample room for casual park strollers and those who arrived late to the show to catch a great view. The band opened with "The World May Never Know", the lead-off to 2005's breakout Easy Beat, musing on life's odd -- but ultimately satisfying -- little wonders. They quickly transitioned into "The Old Days", one of the night's first of many cuts from their excellent new album, Fate, just released on Philly's Park The Van. With a chorus simple and catchy enough that even the pets in the park could sing along to ("Down, down, down"..."Thump, thump, thump"..."Chop, chop, chop"...) and a jaunty, speakeasy piano breakdown courtesy of Zach Miller, the song certainly turned heads.
The seamless shift between McMicken's vocals -- dreamy, harsh, Lennonesque -- and fellow songwrtier Toby Leaman's -- husky, soulful, Segeresque? -- executed itself just as well live as it does on record. Take the one-two punch of Fate's "From", a McMicken song, and "Hang On", a Leaman track that followed. The former is a perfect Beatles tune, complete with lilting harmonies and token nonsensical lyrics (choo-choo trains and choo-choo rain), while the latter is a classic rock showcase with tinges of gospel. One of Dr. Dog's best drawing points is their borrowing from so many kindred spirits: quite obviously The Beatles, The Band, and The Beach Boys are all apparent benchmarks, but a closer look will point to influences like Wilco, David Bowie and even James Brown. That "something for everyone" approach is what has carried the band so far in such a short time, and by surveying the diverse crowd in attendance, it's working in droves.
Naturally, as a band armed with a record still in its honeymoon stage, they drew their hour-and-a-half-long set largely from Fate. Ten of that album's 11 songs were present and accounted for, and all translated extraordinarily well. Fate's closing duo of "The Beach" and "My Friend" served as the end to the night's regular set, before the band brought out string and horn players to accompany them on several orchestrated songs. McMicken introduced the players as some of Philly's best musicians, and they proceeded to lend their talents to "Oh No", "Army Of Ancients", "The Breeze", "Uncovering The Old", "Worst Trip", and the crowning closer, "We All Belong." It was clear that this night was special for the band, who proudly performed for their friends and family -- members' parents were in attendance! -- in the city they call home. It was an entertaining and undeniably fulfilling show, capped by enjoying it in an intimate, picturesque and free setting.
Fate is out now on Park The Van Records, and the band embarks on a national tour starting on September 5th in Arlington, Virginia.