That blurry line between indie-rock and jam-band music? Dr. Dog stepped over it on Wednesday at the Town Ballroom. Repeatedly.
In fact, the group made such arbitrary distinctions between genres to seem nigh on absurd. This was a party. And whether you were a wizened alt-rock veteran weaned on Guided By Voices, or a fresh-faced indie-rock lover who wouldn’t know Pavement from their Architecture in Helsinki, the six men on stage were cranking out a beautiful, scruffy concoction that seemed tailor-made for your tastes.
Since forming at the dawn of the new century, the Philadelphia-born Dr. Dog has been building a buzz through repeated gigs in major and small markets alike, and the group’s relationship with its Buffalo audience offers a perfect example of its hard work paying gradual dividends – from its first appearance before a few dozen people at Mohawk Place in the early days, through Wednesday’s sold-out show at the Town Ballroom, the band has morphed into an indie-rock outfit with both mainstream rock and jam-band appeal.
Wednesday’s show, coming a few days after the release of a new live album, “From A Flamingo Hotel,” and hot on the heels of four sold-out shows at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, split the difference between fat-bottomed grooves and harmony-heavy slabs of modern psychedelic rock. Regardless of the tune – be it the My Morning Jacket-like strut and stomp of “The Beach,” or the ebullient power-pop/Americana blend informing “Nellie,” the crowd sang along as if it had been expecting the set list to unfold exactly as it did. (That’s unlikely, since Dr. Dog alters its list radically from show to show.) All of this hit its peak during an enthused rendering of “Jackie Wants A Black Eye,” during which the crowd all but drowned out the band during the uber-catchy chorus.
The band benefits greatly from the strength of its harmony vocals, and the manner in which co-frontmen bassist Toby Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken share the lead vocal burden. Generally speaking, McMicken handles the more Neil Young-like, loose and lovable slabs of gritty Americana, while Leaman leads the band through dramatic and dynamic estuaries that employ a sturm und drang familiar to fans of fellow indie-rock mavericks like Spoon and Midlake. In drummer Eric Slick, who was plucked from obscurity by prog-rock legend Adrian Belew when was barely a teenager, the band can boast of one of the most virtuosic instrumentalists of its generation. Slick drove the bus with power and finesse all night long.
This was indie-rock, most certainly – most of the crowd appeared to be comprised of 18- to 35-year-olds who’d probably pilfered their father’s copies of Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night” and listened to it alongside Spoon’s “Kill the Moonlight” while hosting parties in the college dorm. But Dr. Dog has carved out a niche all its own through near-constant touring and an open-minded, inclusive approach to song writing. The band’s Buffalo audience, built brick by brick over the past decade, was treated to a perfectly-paced tour through Dr. Dog’s eclectic catalog on Wednesday. The band has proven itself to be one of the most charmingly bizarre and lovably genre-bending of its generation.