Music review: Dr. Dog’s singer-songwriters make for harmonious contrast

Dr. Dog’s raucous performance at Northern Lights on Tuesday night offered up a mixed bag of sorts. D

Dr. Dog’s raucous performance at Northern Lights on Tuesday night offered up a mixed bag of sorts.

Don’t take that the wrong way — nothing the band played ever fell below good, and much of the set ended up being transcendent. But the best moments were probably different for everyone in the packed house, due to the juxtaposition of songs from the band’s two principals, guitarist Scott McMicken and bassist Toby Leaman.

The two singer-songwriters have wildly different personalities that truly come into focus in the live setting. The first two songs made this immediately apparent — McMicken’s “That Old Black Hole” started things off with his sunny California pop vibe (although the band is from Philadelphia), and Leaman answered back with a thundering performance of “Stranger,” his much rawer vocal delivery conveying the song’s dark twists.

Effective balance

Throughout the 90-minute set, McMicken and Leaman switched back and forth, providing a nice balance between pop hooks and winding, progressive songs. Rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy, drummer Eric Slick, keyboardist Zach Miller and multi-instrumentalist Dmitri Manos helped to give the songs a muscular push not found on the group’s early lo-fi albums, and only hinted at on newer records like this year’s “Be the Void.”

Speaking of that album, the band tackled plenty of it, to stunning effect. Leaman’s “Lonesome” was a clear standout, with its bass-less shuffling groove allowing Leaman to dig in to his vocal performance and really wail. “Do the Trick” right before that was a shining moment for McMicken, with Slick hammering out a twisting drumbeat underneath the huge chorus hooks.

The group’s older material also killed — McMicken’s “Shadow People” channeled “Transformer” era Lou Reed, and Leaman fired right back with the barreling “Hang On.” “I Only Wear Blue” gave the band one of its best extended jams of the evening, building from a sparse, arty intro with almost drunken vocals from McMicken into an all-out basher.

As the show progressed, the band kept building up the energy, each singer firing back at the other. At least for this reviewer, Leaman won — “The Beach,” toward the back end of the set, settled on a queasy carnival-esque crawl during the verses, only to explode in the chorus, with Leaman throwing his bass behind his back to deliver the song’s final lines as McMicken and McElroy’s guitars dueled to the end.

McMicken dusted off an old chestnut for the four-song encore with “I Can’t Fly,” from 2002’s “Toothbrush.” The rest of the encore didn’t do much, until closer “Heart it Races” pounded through the venue, ending the show on a fist-pumping high note.

Opening act

Fellow Philadelphian Birdie Busch and her band opened up the show with a monster set of her own, straddling the line between Wilco-esque alt-country and ’90s riot grrrl vocal attitude. Highlights included the spaghetti western soundtrack sound-alike “Hometown Boredom,” and the spacey, Sonic Youth-tinged “Passwords.” The group quickly won the already-full crowd over, punching up the energy for Dr. Dog’s full throttle assault.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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