I knew I was at a Philly show the second I heard deflated nitrous balloons squishing between my sneakers and the pavement on my way to the venue. The local pride wasn’t just littered on the pavement for Dr. Dog’s second sold out show over a warm weekend in March. This was an old-fashioned Philly romp. The kids in flannel were foaming at the mouth in the ticket line, just waiting for their pot to be taken by security. This is their band. This is their city, and they don’t give a damn if it’s a Sunday night. They were ready to sweat.
Dr. Dog was formed in Chester County, just about 25 minutes south of Center City Philadelphia. A prideful city full of sports fans who wear their hearts on their jersey sleeves. They hold local talents like Dr. Dog in the same light. When Dr. Dog is mentioned amongst friends in the city of Brotherly Love, you can bet that somebody will exclaim, “They are from Philly you know!” Someone always seems to know a member of the band as well… or one of their friends knows them. But when the lights went down at the Electric Factory that night, everyone did seem to know them.
I made a choice to plant myself amongst the younger crowd that night. I could have lumbered up the sticky stairs to the bar, but that gives me a reason to complain to the other old folks about my back aching.
They all looked so ‘90s too, the younger crowd, in their knit hats with the little puffy ball on top. This look could’ve been pulled off at Spin Doctors show nearly twenty years ago. Are the ‘90s back? I was looking all over for some Adidas Sambas, but sadly I didn’t spot any. I would say 1 in 30 kids were donning these hats with the name of their favorite band knitted along their domes.
The stage was dressed like a Dr. Dog fan boy’s bedroom. Imagine a high school level stage crew set up. The fake walls were covered in ‘70s era wallpaper and Dr. Dog posters. They had night tables and small lamps scattered around the stage and fake bedroom windows. They were playing to a hometown crowd who wore their names on their heads. This is how it should be.
First to enter the stage was a man dressed like he just returned from Space Camp. He was wearing an astronaut suit that seemed a bit out of date. Yet an orange jumpsuit with a bulbous shiny helmet was all the crowd needed to start heaving with anticipation. The spaceman walked over to the fake bedroom door and opened it. First out was the mousy singer/guitarist Scott McMicken. He too was wearing the Dr. Dog knit cap with the puffy ball on top. The rest of the band filed in and immediately jumped into “Shadow People” from 2010’s Shame, Shame. The crowd sang every lyric of the song that pays homage to West Philadelphia.
Dr. Dog’s new album Be the Void was produced professionally as opposed to their previous home studio recordings. A band that had been praised for their lo-fi pop sensibilities had decided to clean off the coffee table and make it tidy for once. The album sounds cleaner, but nothing has changed about their live show. You are getting what you paid for the minute they rip your ticket at a Dr. Dog show. The kids got a good taste of an old-fashioned rock concert. A band that plays the songs you want to hear without taking a beat off is someone you will want to see again and again. Their fervent fans didn’t take a beat off either.
Not one track from Be The Void was heard until their fifth song (“Do The Trick”). This wasn’t a show promoting their new album though. In this Spotify age of fleeting albums, Dr. Dog is proof that having a rich catalogue will keep fans thirsty. Thirsty fans make for a thirsty band. Dr. Dog is thirsty for you people! They play for themselves and the fans.
By the end of the show a young couple in front of me started making out like they believed in the in Mayan prophecy for 2012. They were basically wrestling with their noses, but the passion was akin to what was on stage. These kids had never seen a band sweat as much as them. Dr. Dog was tenacious that night. McMicken, returning to the stage with a pack of cookies in hand, kicked off the encore. He began tossing them to the crowd, where most of the recipients began smelling the cookies, hoping that they were made with marijuana.
Dr. Dog ripped through their five-song encore, which was ended by an Architecture in Helinksi cover, “Heart it Races”. The show was nearly two hours of true to form showmanship. They handle their live shows like athletes. Playing hard until the whistle blows. I wonder if their backs ached as much as mine at the end?