It’s disheartening to arrive at a gig and find one of your favourite bands selling their own merchandise from the top of a beer-soaked table, chain-smoking to help them endure the electro-schlock being peddled by the support band. Recent warm-up slots with the Raconteurs and The Magic Numbers couldn’t help the Philadelphia 5 piece sell out the relatively tiny Metro club, confirming your worst fears about the music industry’s inability to work out what to do with a band without the right hair and cheekbones, or maybe just our refusal to take a punt on a group with a dodgy name.
Nicotine dependence aside, Dr. Dog don’t appear to have let their undeserved obscurity get to them. Unfazed, they took to the stage leading the small but enthusiastic crowd in a synchronised hand-clap intro. to Fool’s Life. Gruff-voiced singer and bassist Toby Leaman (A.K.A. Tables), leapt in with all the passion of a disgraced evangelical preacher railing indignantly against imminent death, demons dragging him to a sulphurous ever-after. But when joint singer and guitarist Scott McMicken (A.K.A. Taxi) lent his distinctive, slightly cartoony Neil Young voice to the plentiful and inventive harmonies it became apparent wherein lie the band’s strengths.
Effectively Dr. Dog are two different bands led by two very different singers that somehow fit together perfectly. One Dr. Dog is a soulful, stompy blues outfit with a penchant for doo-wop, the other is a playful, psychedelic rock ‘n’ pop group. It may sound a grandiose claim but there’s a similar tension to the Lennon/McCartney partnership in their songs and, just as with The You-Know-Whos, there’s no mistaking whose tune is whose. Each singer lent his talents to the other’s songs, balancing out the whimsy of some or else softening the edge on others into pop perfection, while the rest of the band kept the whole thing coherent.
McMicken’s endearingly loopy stage moves – think Chuck Berry’s dog chasing his own tail – and Leaman’s thousand-yard stare excited and disquieted the audience in equal measure but that didn’t stop them joining the band onstage (by invitation) for the rousing, sea-shanty finale of Wake Up. As the fans went their separate ways down Oxford Street we could hear one group continuing the chant “Wake up, wake up, wake uhHH-UP, we’re only part of a dream!” and we're not ashamed to say we joined in.
The Album ‘Easy Beat’ is out now on Rough Trade; new EP ‘Takers and Leavers’ is out very soon on the same label.
Words and photos by Alex Edouard