Outlandishly primal studio wiz, R. Stevie Moore, a reliable elder statesman given serious adoration from youthful headlining Philly sextet, Dr. Dog, made the most of his commencing opportunity this comfy summer’s eve at Bowery Ballroom. Though generations apart, Moore and Dr. Dog share a love for elliptical ‘60s-styled rock designs. The former bends obtuse lyrical twists and propitious compositional turns into thriftily engaging dime-store musings while the latter stay focused on cautiously detailing every note they ring out live. The two acts had no trouble entertaining a packed crowd already familiarized with their estimable careers.
It should be duly noted that tattered Jersey-based Nashville native, Moore, concocted bracing lo-fi 4-track bedroom recordings two decades before Sebadoh and Ween made it cool. A paunchy, bespectacled, white-haired boho whom I’ve bought vinyl from during his stint at a famous downtown Montclair record store, the peerless Moore built an extensive boutique catalog highlighted in the late-‘70s by the fascinatingly unbound Phonography and the equally crazed Delicate Tensions.
Almost old enough to collect social security, the mad professor now addressed as Senator, proved to be quite the fucking character. A wacky, askew showman donning white lab coat, Bermuda shirt, gray slacks, and suede shoes, this DIY indie pop harbinger wrangled, mangled, and entangled loose arrangements while delivering mostly newer warped warblers in an untamed half-sung baritone bellow with huskily frayed edges (recalling Captain Beefheart’s gnarled snarl at one point). Moore’s ‘tween-song nonsequitirs were oft-times hilarious and occasionally bewilderingly bumbled: ‘I yearn to learn about the germs in my sperm.’
Looking like a ragged vagabond fronting his malleable guitar-bass-keys-drums-bongo unit, Moore was looser than clams, a freakily ambiguous curiosity lightly promoting a promised new album produced by storied Sonic Youth/ Teenage Fanclub knob-twiddler, Don Fleming. A snazzy opening-closing instrumental theme girded his wholly melodic hook-filled faux-hits and nifty scattered vestiges.
After Moore’s 50-minute set, security told me ‘he pulled a disappearing act’ and couldn’t be found anywhere. Guess he’s a magician as well.
Nearly a decade removed from their first developmental homemade tapes, Dr. Dog got its big chance when impressed My Morning Jacket front man Jim James offered them an ’05 tour slot. On ’07 Park The Van breakthrough, We All Belong, the eclectic combo’s appetizing tunes surged to many blazingly climactic heights. Eager dramatic sentiments hoisted its overall carefree whimsicality. A few dusky Beatles maneuvers informed various catchy verses, if not whole songs. Well-crafted derivations such as “Don’t Pretend” borrowed joyously splashed harmonies and sparkly melodies from Abbey Road era delectations. And the melancholic horn-drenched jingle, “Worst Trip,” would’ve fit nicely alongside contagious ‘90s underground pop wunderkinds, Jellyfish, as well as early Fountains Of Wayne (both Beatles disciples).
Loosely conceptual ’08 follow-up, Fate, boasts remarkable consistency and a more unified grandeur, snuffing out the quirky affectations and cluttered mini-passages of yore. Sure, Dr. Dog still discreetly clip the Fab Four’s orchestral piano uplift, carnivalesque kitsch, and surreal imagery, but the echoed Wall Of Sound multi-harmonies lean closer to the Beach Boys dazzling interchange. Gospel organ-droned lament, “From,” adroitly combines sensitive John Lennon fervency with mellifluent Brian Wilson harmonies. An increased studio assuredness allows the canine-christened crew to attach sturdier string and horn elements to their deepest emotional testaments, such as the soulful “Army Of Ancients” and the questing “Uncovering The Old.”
Creating high-tension drama in an absolutely meticulous one-hour set, Dr. Dog’s shaded theatricality underscored their abstruse psychedelic conviction. The wooden Bowery stage, bedecked with floral vines and other plastic plants, book-ended opposing keyboardists and back-spaced efficient drummer Justin Stens. Wearing sunglasses and/ or fedoras, frontline guitarists’ Scott Mc Micken and Frank Mc Elroy cornered bassist Toby Leaman, the most animated ‘Dog,’ whose euphonic four-string tonicity got judiciously draped across the entire oeuvre. In concert, any obvious stylistic influences were distanced by tangibly distinct performances.
Several hot Fate numbers regaled the faithful minions on hand. The ornamental percussive march of “The Old Days,” reminiscent at times of contemporaries the Shins and Grandaddy, initially captured the audience’s attention. Soon after, “The Beach,” mingled molten Animals white soul into an ominous Dylan-esque dirge well suited for Tom Waits’ twisted vaudevillian waltzing. Leaman then dove headfirst into a heartfelt lullaby elevated by crushing guitar flourishes and sturdy drums. Meanwhile, Moore returned from his short exodus and shook a tambourine on a well-received three-song encore, eventually plying merry electric piano to Dr. Dog’s stimulating kindhearted memento, “My Friend.”
Some may’ve found fault with Dr. Dog’s streamlined uniformity and slower steadfast beats during Fate’s ample showcase. But whatever kaleidoscopic multi-hued textures were sacrificed in the process of supplanting We All Belong couldn’t disrupt the amiable concision.
Justifiably given a fighting chance at stardom when My Morning Jacket took ‘em under their wing, Dr. Dog continues to prosper. And with grade school pals Mc Micken and Leaman’s ripening compositional skills, a wellspring of even better original material might soon be on the horizon.