|Photo by: Jillian Mapes|
The Newport is freezing. Apparently they’ve got two industrial heaters, but they must be banking on the several hundred fans en route for tonight's Dr. Dog show to provide their own warmth. After playing their last Columbus show at The Basement, the band members check their sound against the relatively-cavernous Newport Music Hall. Up a spiral staircase from stage-left, a bundled up co-frontman Scott McMicken postulates on how Dr. Dog just might be coming up in the world.
“I was kind of surprised to be playing here,” said McMicken. “Lately, it seems like when we come back to a town, we’re in a little bit bigger place, but this is so disproportionate. This is like five times bigger.”
For a band that’s used to jumping from tiny dives to gigantic, outdoor shows like Bonnaroo (whose line-up Dr. Dog just cracked again), a show like tonight's (February 12, 2010) still requires some adjustments.
“You’re a lot more sensitive to the actual sound of things and how you’re playing,” said McMicken. “It’s less about the immediate visceral energy of what’s going on, and more about creating a sound large enough to reach 100 yards away, as opposed to 30 feet.”
McMicken (lead guitar, vocals) and the gang –- Toby Leaman (bass, vocals), Frank McElroy (rhythm guitar, harmony extraordinaire), Zach Miller (keyboards), and Eric Slick (drums) –- are now touring as part of the build-up to the release of their sixth full-length album, Shame, Shame. The record is their first with new label Anti-, as well as their first recording made in an outside studio with a producer -- an experience so conventional that it blew Dr. Dog’s mind.
“We went in to it kind of blindly, with an open heart to say, ‘We’re gonna do things differently,’” said McMicken. “There was a different kind of record in us that we wanted to make, but that didn’t line up with the way we taught ourselves to make records.”
McMicken could probably talk through three or four cigarettes about all of the growing pains encountered while recording, all the while maintaining how important they were for the band’s development.
“Here’s the thing about our albums, all of them, even the earliest ones: That’s what we wanted to hear at that particular moment in time,” he said. “As different as they all sound, at the time that they were being made, that’s exactly what we wanted to hear.”
Truly the band’s sound has become more polished with each record, but passion for the songs has never waned.
“Maybe that’s just because we had the ability to take our circumstances and say, ‘Let’s make the absolute best of this. We have one microphone and an 8-track, and a wooden marimba, and a trashcan, and a Casio keyboard,’” said McMicken. “Whatever’s there, you shift your perspective and the power of your interpretation to say, ‘This is the greatest situation we could possibly be in. Let’s do the best we can with this.’”
While early accounts of the new album suggested a more guitar-driven and perhaps punkier sounding record, a quick listen reveals no such evolution. McMicken, though, is happy to clarify.
“In my mind, we’ve always been a punk band when it comes to playing shows,” he said. “It was never like we were punk rockers, pure in simple, but that energy, even as we started playing as a live band, it was just this furious, aggressive energy that seemed to be unavoidable as we played.”
He and Leaman each grew up performing in punk bands while exploring other types of music.
“I just really admire bands like The Clash who can really traverse all kinds of genres, but there’s still that dire urgency behind every beat,” McMicken added. “That, to me, is what punk rock is, and that is the aspect of punk rock that I feel as though I’ve tried to encourage and get excited about with our band.”
Shame, Shame definitely captures more of the live Dr. Dog energy than past records. Guitars are more prevalent, often playing lines normally carried out by double-tracked vocal harmonies and other tricks that can’t be pulled off live.
“We were taking those experiences on the stage as reference points, rather than shedding them when you go into the studio, which is what we would always do,” said McMicken.
Not only is the new album more representative of Dr. Dog's live act, but the songs also have more of a personal edge than previous recordings.
“When it’s working, on a good night, you’re feeling all kinds of stuff,” said McMicken. “We chose a batch of songs that are a little darker, or a little bit more heart-on-your-sleeve kind of stuff.”
The band will typically have 30 or 40 songs to choose from when laying down an album. When only 12 or so are chosen, it creates quite a backlog to draw on when heading into the studio. For Shame, Shame, several of the songs have been in the works for year.
“’Where’d All the Time Go’ is eight years old,” McMicken said. “[The song] has been in the bag for every record we’ve made since Easy Beat. We recorded it so many times and just never got a version we were happy with.”
According to McMicken, new tracks “The Station” and “Unbearable Why” were also originally conceived for other records. Since Shame, Shame hasn’t yet been released, and remains unleaked at this point, fans greet the new tunes with a bit of confusion during live shows.
“You kick into [the new songs], and people aren’t cheering like they are when they hear a song that they know from an album,” said McMicken. “Pretty consistently, though, by the end of the song, we’ve kind of got them.”
Such is the case for the handful of new tracks dished out at the Newport. Tonight, Dog, M.D. won’t even throw the fans the bone of playing “Shadow People,” the just-released first single from Shame, Shame. When they begin the Southern-fried riffs of “Mirror, Mirror,” the audience gets its first chance to sit in judgment of the new material. At about the two minute mark, though, the song’s coda kicks in with the punk energy that McMicken spoke of, and the concert-goers seem to forget that they don’t know the words.
After the Clash-esque “Later” and Shame, Shame opener “Stranger,” all of the crowd’s reservations about new material are completely dissolved.
As for the rest of the show, the guys continue to play most of Fate, a bit of We All Belong and some old favorites from Easy Beat. The encore is a highlight, containing the early tracks “Fool’s Life” and “Oh No,” the second half of which embodies the type of punk rock ethos and 1960s psychedelic rollicking that made the band popular in the first place. All in all, the Newport show is classic Dr. Dog, the type of live performance that turns casual listeners into die-hard fans.
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