Local Current Blog

Review: Dr. Dog bring their “B-Room” A-game to the Mainroom at First Avenue

Dr. Dog at First Avenue. Photo by Jay Gabler.

This week, music fans have been buzzing about Philly Weekly‘s decision to devote a cover story to Jordan White, a singer-songwriter with a modest live following but a seemingly massive Twitter following. Did he earn the followers? Game them? Buy them? Throughout the debate, White’s fellow Philadelphians Dr. Dog have been held up as the gold standard of online integrity, with Philadelphia musicians and journalists being measured against the long-running band, “Philly’s biggest current rock success story,” per PW.

Though the members of Dr. Dog might be embarrassed by this sort of attention (“Mr. White, you’re no Dr. Dog!”), they’ve earned their status among rock’s hardest-working, most fan-friendly artists. The band’s two frontmen and primary songwriters, Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken, have been playing together since eighth grade and releasing music under the name Dr. Dog since 2001 (having graduated from an earlier band named “Raccoon,” academic degree not indicated). Over the past 13 years, they’ve been a fan’s dream band: they haven’t broken up, they’ve released albums often, they keep the quality of their music high, they keep their sound consistent while occasionally venturing into new sonic frontiers, they tour frequently, and—yes—they’re good on Twitter.

On Thursday night, Dr. Dog played the first of two shows at First Avenue; tonight’s show sold out weeks ago, and last night’s was a near-sellout. (After the shows, they joked, they plan to follow in the footsteps of Prince and Dave Chapelle with basketball and a pancake dinner.) “They said, let’s do two nights and we’ll see if the people come,” said McMicken from the stage. “A lot of you came, and that means a lot to us.”

Perhaps because they have two nights to spread their discography over, the band skipped at least a couple of obvious song choices: “Love,” Mark Wheat’s (and my) favorite track off their new album B-Room; and fan favorite “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” which I spent the entirety of a 2012 Dr. Dog show in St. Louis listening to nearby bros bellow for. (Their wish was finally granted.) Instead, the band played other material from B-Room—including “Broken Heart,” Leaman’s song about never having had one, which has been heavily played on the Current and was received enthusiastically by the generally chill crowd.

Among the older tracks the band played were “Say Ahhh,” a song from the earliest days of the Dr. that’s now been recast as a loungy instrumental; and a searching “Shadow People,” from 2010’s “Shame Shame.” The evening’s most surprisingly high-energy offerings were two tracks from 2012’s Be the Void: McMicken’s “That Old Black Hole,” which was a set-opener on their last tour and is now a barn-burner tucked one song in to the set; and “Lonesome,” which closed the band’s set with Leaman handing his bass off to jump into the crowd and demonstrate some spasmodic dance moves that evoked the spirit of the first artist to play First Ave, Joe Cocker.

Opening the show were Carroll, a Minneapolis band who reported that they’d just been in Philadelphia recording their own upcoming album. The crowd, many of whom were likely familiar with the popular quartet, received the set—which leaned on the band’s dreamy (some might say sleepy) new material—well. “I’ve got to say,” reported drummer Charlie Rudoy, “that in cheesesteaks v. jucy lucys, there’s no contest.” When you’re opening for Dr. Dog, it’s good to throw your hometown crowd a bone.

While they were in town, Dr. Dog visited our studios to play a session with host Mark Wheat; hear the session on the Current at 7:00 p.m. on February 18.