The stage at Houston’s Warehouse Live has seen plenty of great acts in recent months. But if the crowd that gathered at the venue on Saturday was suffering from any kind of rock exhaustion, the terrific set by Dr. Dog turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
Dr. Dog brought along indie newcomers Here We Go Magic, who emerged out of the Brooklyn music scene in 2008 amid a flurry of critical praise. Their opening set — replete with methodical, hopeful rhythms, jangly cowgirl synth sounds, and overenthusiastic fans drunk on knowing all their lyrics before they “got big” — did not disappoint, but it’s clear that Here We Go Magic are still a growing band, and one with lots more promise. If their well-executed time changes and profound crescendos are indicative of music to come, then they have the potential to write occult anthems à la (dare I say it?) Arcade Fire, and still have fun while doing it.
Whereas Here We Go Magic seduced with moments of sonic introspection, Dr. Dog wowed with a solid rock set. Warming up with tracks off their latest album, Shame, Shame, Dr. Dog reinvented their warm, 60s pop-rock sound with dashes of frenetic guitar, groaning rhythms, and stadium show conceits on Warehouse Live’s intimate stage. “Fool’s Life,” an ancient track from their 2005 album Easy Beat, combined angry red strobe light pops with discordant solos, and fan favorites like “The Breeze,” while lacking some of Fate’s pop production flourishes, maintained the love, mood, and energy woven between the notes.
Singer/bassist Toby Leaman gave an exceptional vocal performance, wailing straight from the throat on “Stranger” and “Army of Ancients” with a sexiness overpowered only by his voice’s sheer tenacity. During a haunting performance of “The Beach,” Leaman bulleted his doleful moans with long pauses that made the audience beg for more. It’s cliché to mention Dr. Dog’s emulation of The Beatles these days, but the soulful, aching cries of Paul McCartney on Abbey Road were hard to miss during Leaman’s songs.
If anything about the show disappointed, it would have to be the misuse of Scott McMicken’s vocals. While his nasal warble inspired soulful sing-alongs on “I Only Wear Blue” and the encore performance of “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” it distracted from the complex rhythms of “Unbearable Why” and bouncy dance beats of “Mirror, Mirror.” McMicken possesses one of those rare voices that can effectively sing off-key, but it’s a gift that should only be used sparingly and selectively.
With their music growing increasingly gritty as the night progressed, Dr. Dog muted their familiar harmonies with some serious rock. The six-song conclusion to their set was strung together by solo after exceptional solo from McMicken, oscillating between effervescent dance tunes like “The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer” and a (no joke) head-banging metal version of “Shame, Shame.” Finally, set-closer “We All Belong” took the song’s pleasant, communal anthem qualities to a fever pitch.
After such a long, seamless, closing sequence, an encore seemed impossible, but the band returned to a grateful crowd, who hugged and swayed through the bonus songs. The feel-good finale served as lasting proof that, whenever you need a prescription for some rock and roll euphoria, you can just page Dr. Dog.