|Dr. Dog | All photos by Katie Moulton|
Photos and words by Katie Moulton
Dear Midwestern Summer 2013,
I found your bros, and they just want to dance. In an historic Indianapolis beer garden, a sold-out crowd bopped to the AM Gold jams of Dr. Dog, creating the live show equivalent of an easy-rocking summer lager.
An outdoor stage was set up in the spacious patio of the Rathskeller, contained within what appeared to be an imposing nineteenth-century Bavarian-style beer hall—a venue which, I was told numerous times, hosts a helluva polka night. When I showed up, the crowd—moms and daughters with their hair curled and dudes in polos and tie-dye—was already teeming brick wall to brick wall, making room on the tops of picnic tables to get a better view.
The openers were almost-local act Houndmouth, who hail from New Albany, Indiana (actually closer to Louisville, Kentucky) and appear to be both impossibly young and pretty. The country-rock quartet features Katie Toupin, Matt Myers, Zak Appleby and Shane Cody, all of whom contribute to sweet, nasal-tinged harmonies and take turns on lead vocals. The crowd sang along to several of the band’s earnest anthems from their debut album From the Hills Below the City, including “Houston Train,” “Krampus,” and “On the Road,” which they performed on “Conan” back in June. It’s a saturated market for this brand of hipstamericana, but the newly-mainstream popularity of similarly-structured acts like The Lumineers, The Head & the Heart, and The Civil Wars means there’s probably room for more. Houndmouth write songs for your family campout, songs to jump into lakes to. And Toupin, when she lets rip, has got a wail that can be heard from the bottom of the holler. For now, Houndmouth have still got their ragged charm, and hopefully they continue to let the seams show.
The late-evening light had finally faded when Dr. Dog took the stage. Since 2001, this sextet out of Philly has been earning fans with each new album (B-Room, their eighth, is due out in October with Anti-) by feeling out the grooves within a well-worn sound. Combining bouncy guitar hooks and lonesome-frat-boy harmonies, it’s the Beatles-meets-the-Band. The upbeat 90-minute set featured songs mostly from Be the Void (2012), Shame, Shame (2010) and Fate (2008), and crowd knew every lick. A highlight was the band’s lone cover–“Heart It Races,” originally by Architecture in Helsinki, which, with its wobbly bass, skittery drums and quirky backing vocals, lets Dr. Dog dig into its freakier side. Other than that, the tempo didn’t vary much, and while that made many of the songs indistinguishable for me—the pace also never lagged, and the fans never paused their swaying to the sunny Guster-with-shoes-on singalongs.
Frontmen Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken switched off on lead vocals, with Leaman infusing his performances with over-the-top soul and McMicken, disguised in trucker hat and sunglasses, singing in a higher-pitched, lo-fi deadpan. I preferred when McMicken takes the lead, such as on “Shadow People” and “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” but the affable buddy dynamic between the two seems integral to what Dr. Dog is all about.
It’s true I’ve grown to like my music with a bit more bite, my musicians with a bit more bark, and my live shows a lot less leashed. Yet when a band of old buds (Leaman and McMicken started playing together in eighth grade) launch into a swinging chorus of “We’re all in it together now, as we all fall apart,” and a mob of strangers hoist their plastic cups and throw arms around shoulders, it’s a reminder that there are some sentiments, people and sounds we choose again and again, and the familiar can be good without requiring analysis. And when a warm-hearted person begins to tell you a story for the thousandth time over the thousandth beer—to complain wouldn’t just be missing the point, it would be downright unneighborly.
1. Stranger (Shame, Shame)
2. That Old Black Hole (Be the Void)
3. Hang On (Fate)
4. Shadow People (Shame, Shame)
5. Vampire (Be the Void)
6. Do the Trick (Be the Void)
7. Distant Light (new song)
8. The Breeze (Fate)
10. Love (new song)
11. The Beach (Fate)
12. Heavy Light (Be the Void)
13. Heart It Races (Architecture in Helsinki cover)
15. These Days (Be the Void)
16. The Way the Lazy Do (We All Belong)
17. Lonesome (Be the Void)
18. From (Fate)
20. My Friend (Fate)
21. Jackie Wants a Black Eye (Shame, Shame)