September 30, 2008
The Record Bar
Better Than: Drinking pints of Boulevard Wheat with your brother who just got back from a semester in Greece and wants to tell you all about it.
By JORDAN EDWARDS
Photos By MICHAEL FORESTER
Before headliners Dr. Dog took the stage, San Diego’s Delta Spirit set the room (or at least the front few rows) on fire with songs from its debut, Ode to Sunshine. The group's brand of brash, Dylan-influenced Americana sounds a lot like Ryan Adams at his best. And for a band not quite at the top of the bill, that’s plenty good enough. Frontman Matthew Vasquez rumbled through saloon-ready rockers like “Streetwalker” and “Trashcan,” and earned a herd of new fans with the sing-along closer, “People, Turn Around.”
Dr. Dog didn’t try to upstage the previous band. The Philadelphia natives knew it was their night. They didn’t seem to care that they had to do their own sound check in front of a packed house or that they were fitted with white Coors Light bracelets like everyone else who walked through the door. Dr. Dog’s energy, and those awesome gumdrop harmonies, made for an engrossing night of theater.
The band opened with “The Old Days,” a get-up-and-bob wakeup call to those still standing at the bar. Bassist Toby Leaman took over on the bluesy “Hang On,” letting the audience know that they were in for some occasional hurtin’. But the story of this show was the raspy/sweet interchange of Leaman and co-lead vocalist Scott McMicken. “The Ark,” a grimy guitar jam Neil Young would be proud of, sounded perfect with lines like Love, she asked for more/But what I gave only made her poor.
McMicken, on the other hand, seems more a disciple of White Album-era Beatles who drenches his arrangements in warm psychedelica. With supporting oohs and aahs from guitarist Frank McElroy, he shined on the syrupy “My Old Ways” and “The Way The Lazy Do.” Perhaps the evening’s best moment came when McMicken slid behind the piano for the moonlit ballad “The Breeze.”
Underneath it all was keyboardist Zach Miller. Perched on an instrument case and looking dapper in a collared shirt and hat, he did more than pound the ivories. From the Elton John fluidness that pieced together “Hang On,” to the off kilter staccato bops that kicked off “Worst Trip,” he was the backbone of the entire outfit. Nevermind that he sat off to the side and rarely cracked a smile.
Absent from the set list were fan favorites like “Alaska” and their Web-only cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart it Races.” Voices from the crowd called for both songs during a pretty lame encore, but the band ignored them. After all, they’re professionals -- even if the yellow light peaking in from the parking lot revealed that yes, they were playing in a shopping center.
The Old Days
The Way the Lazy Do
Army of Ancients
Ain’t It Strange
My Old Ways
The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer
Personal Bias: These guys kind of sucked on Conan O’Brien a few weeks ago, but I told my friends not to judge them for that—everyone sounds horrible on talk shows.
Random Detail: I ran into birthday boy Miller in the bathroom during Delta Spirit’s set. He was disappointingly sober and polite.
By the Way: On the band’s Web site (www.drdogmusic.com), you can navigate through an interactive companion piece to their new album, Fate, that includes skeletons on a train and moose that jerk up and down.