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Dr. Dog live in Chicago

| Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Here’s to the only band I’ve know to have passed out pizza in the middle of a show. The Dr. Dog that performed in Chicago this weekend is not your neighborhood veterinary clinic, but rather a neo-psychedelic rock band with indie roots based in Pennsylvania. The second of two shows this weekend, Dr. Dog’s Sunday performance was moved just days before the show from its original location at The House of Blues to Lincoln Hall, located in the stylish Lincoln Park area on the north side of Chicago — a considerably smaller venue with a maximum capacity of about 500 people.

I had seen this quintessential festival band perform at Bonnaroo to a huge field of people with divided attention, but this small concert hall provided an experience that was totally unique with an audience that came specifically to see Dr. Dog. This enthusiastic crowd had not wandered in by a chance of fate; they were seeing this show with intention.

An opening performance by Secret Colours, an innovative local band with a vibey sound, captured the early-arriving audience. During the time you might expect people to be hanging around the bar or checking out merch, the area in front of the stage was as crowded as if it were the headliner.

In such an intimate setting, the fact that Dr. Dog maintained an air of mystery is quite a feat. Breaks between songs were filled with an anticipating drumbeat rather than banter, not to mention the dark sunglasses worn by half of the band members. Nevertheless, the relatively bright lighting allowed conversation between the band and crowd members, but in a way that was to the point. For three of their songs, they choose a particular person from the audience and played whatever song that person requested, even taking one request from the balcony.

The band as a whole did a great job of showcasing the multiple talents of each band member. Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman shared the responsibility of lead vocals, each leading a distinct sound. McMicken led the entrancing, psychedelic songs while Leaman led those that were heartfelt and straightforward. Members also switched between bass, guitar and keyboard, which could be distracting if you were trying to keep track of them individually, but otherwise they pulled it off seamlessly.

The small crowd of close friends of the band sang along to their top hits such as “Lonesome” and the upbeat cover “Heart it Races.” The audience engaged in a particularly heartfelt rendition of “Too Weak to Ramble.” Nevertheless, the true highlights of the show were found in lesser-known psychedelic numbers and hypnotic jam sessions. As if the encore itself weren’t enough of a surprise, band members emerged from backstage each with a stack of pizzas to re-energize the crowd for four final songs.

A strong setlist included songs from eight different albums (I was able to snag a hand-written version after the show).  The performance ended with the catchy hit “My Friend,” followed by the sincere ballad “County Line.”

The show left nothing to be desired, except that I wasn’t called on with my song request of “The Pretender.” Hopefully I’ll get a chance next time.

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