Diggin' on Dr. Dog in Denver

By: Kyle Donovan

Dr. Dog's recent sold-out Denver gig was wicked.

It was a cool, windy night on Colfax Avenue. A sold-out show at the Ogden drew an absurdly large crowd, and considering the number of bodies under one roof, the atmosphere was surprisingly mellow. Eager fans held drinks as they buzzed about the theater, some dressed to impressed and others clearly ready for Saturday morning cartoons.

 The Bright Light Social Hour. Photo per the author. 

The Bright Light Social Hour. Photo per the author. 

When The Bright Light Social Hour hit the stage, the anticipation in the auditorium was palpable. The 1,600 attendees warmed up to the Austin-based rock band slowly; throughout their hour-long set, their sound evolved. A lot. Starting out with an ambient, dance-ready rock groove featuring heavy rhythmic elements and highly reverberant vocals, their style struck me as paradoxical. Their snare drum started out as faint and clouded, but the beat was crystal clear. Intense, soaring vocals and slick guitar licks were dulled into a pop-rock miasma by heavy reverb effects. I felt compelled after a few songs to move my body, though few of the listeners around me were so motivated. About halfway through the set, the band had found their way into a straightforward indie rock sound, eventually edging their way into soul territory and beyond. The most impressive part about Bright Light's set was their versatility; their ability to transition between styles and remain consistent is rare.

By their last song, the crowd was practically howling for Dr. Dog. In fact, when lead singer Jack O'Brien mentioned the headliner, most people got on their feet and started applauding. I almost felt bad for the guys, as this was the first time the audience exuded such earnest enthusiasm. Such is the plight of an opening act.

 Dr. Dog. Photo per the author.

Dr. Dog. Photo per the author.

Dr. Dog's set began with theatrics: two LED-laden facades illuminated the stage with a deep blue glow, obscuring the positions of keyboard player Zach Miller and electronics/percussion/effects guru Dimitri Manos. Two solid pillars embedded with noise-sensitive LEDs framed either side of drummer Eric Slick's kit, and a black and white grid covered both the scrim behind the stage and the stage itself. The view from the balcony was gorgeous and impeccable.

The band picked a variety of songs from the catalog of their latest album, The Psychedelic Swamp, just released on February 5th. Oddly enough, their "new" tunes from the latest album are really oldies, as The Psychedelic Swamp is actually a reboot of their first self-released album from 2001, which goes by the same name. While hardcore fans might already know this, most casual fans probably recognize Toothbrush (2002) as the band's debut album, as coverage of this album was largely responsible for their rise to success in the mid-2000s. The band showed they weren't afraid to play oddball tunes by taking audience requests for the show's encore (and launching almost immediately into the first suggestions offered).

Lead singer Toby Leaman's voice was coarse, but he never hesitated to belt out classic melodies from tunes like “Lonesome” and “Heart it Races”. Rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy kept the sound consistent with on-point vocal harmony, while lead guitarist Scott McMicken carried a few songs with stage presence alone, most notably in a heartfelt rendition of “Jackie Wants a Black Eye”, which the audience went absolutely nuts for. Dr. Dog’s most effective tactic, though, was the use of heavy, dynamic changes. Lights would dim almost entirely, leaving only an ultraviolet glow to engulf the audience in its aqueous ambiance. Moments later, flood lights would slam on, perfectly coordinated with a guitar solo or vocal hook. The crowd followed the band wherever they went, but with curiously measured enthusiasm.

Dr. Dog's music videos often evoke feelings of intense celebration, raucous and bombastic in their indie rock sound. And although fans sang along and often swayed with their favorite tunes, dancing was scarcely seen. Fans cheered long and hard for an encore, and were rewarded when the band asked them to choose the final set. During the encore, Leaman took a leap of faith and dipped the microphone into the front row, asking for suggestions. Judging by the enthusiasm (and ecstatic crowd), they made the right decision. The encore might just have been the best set of the night.

Something about that show gives me the feeling that Dr. Dog will be back soon.

Watch an infomercial for Dr. Dog’s Psychedelic Swamp:

-Kyle

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.