A wall of fog hangs over the Golden Gate, as jasmine bombards the olfactory system and a nippy gust foreshadows the crisp San Francisco eve. Gothic chandeliers dip and dangle overhead the Fillmore Auditorium, as flannel clad hipsters scrupulously survey burgundy velvet curtains, absent-mindedly sipping PBR. A conduit for cataclysmic, history shifting performances from immortals Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis and The Who, to name drop a few, the SF Fillmore has since been purchased, branded, and franchised by Live Nation. Though Denver, Detroit, Philly, NYC, and Charlotte now stake claims to the Fillmore name, venue historians know that San Francisco’s incarnation embodies the real deal.
As Dr. Dog songwriters Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken glide modestly across a rainbow polka dot backdrop, an oscillating sea of contraband lighters greets the group. Philly based Dr. Dog, of low-fidelity folk and psychedelic rock fame, draw inspiration from 60’s icons The Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, and John Lennon. Kicking off with “Stranger,” raspy howls complement a harmonious choir of ELO-esque backup vocals, as Leaman belts, veins straining against the skin of his neck, “20 years of schooling, I just never learned the math / that 1 and 1 don’t equal 2, they often equal half.”
From gospel drenched “Hang On,” to animalistic “The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer,” the pride of Philadelphia dug deep into their diverse catalog of blues, country, and folk rock. Sampling 2010’s Shame, Shame, their inaugural LP with Anti-Records, Dr. Dog unleashed a wave of meandering melodies and seamless harmonies that penetrated the Fillmore from its hallowed hardwood floorboards to its cathedral ceiling. Inconceivably precise electric guitar riffs and booming vocals set the backbone for “The Breeze,” off Fare, the group’s penultimate LP. Leaman blasts defiantly, “If nothing ever moves / put that needle to the groove, and sing!”
Transitioning to anthemic “The Breeze,” McMicken’s nimble digits blurred the frets with spectral virtuosity, as his right leg pulsed in spastic jolts. Leaman’s whopping bass and an escalating chord progression serve as fortitude for the taunting childe on “Where’d All The Time Go,” as McMicken shouts out a cathartic: “she’s walking backward / thorough a parade / and I’m stuck in the shadow / blocking the shade / and there ain’t no way to sweep up the mess that we made.”
On “Shadow People,” McMicken is drawn headlong into the self-destructive and oft pointless umbra of isolation, alienation, and torment. Setting the stage with his distinctive serenely seductive voice, he whispers, “The rain is falling, its after dark / the streets are swimming with the sharks.” Dr. Dog leads us to a realm where “every shadow’s getting famous” and we are faced with an impossible choice: “you could be twisted, you could be insane, pushing the envelop against the grain,” crackling in passionate agony. But just as the world crumbles to dust, a glimmer of hope with the band erupting in euphoric passion, “or just playing along!”
Midnight rapidly approaching, Dr. Dog capped off their set with titular track “Shame, Shame,” purring “I used to write it all down, hoping someone would read it years from now / Shame, shame / I used to act like I was in a movie, so mysterious and misunderstood.”
Dedicated fans, refusing to go home and to bed without a sendoff, stomped and hollered until Dr. Dog returned for a healthy encore. The enthusiastic and attentive audience was rewarded with a rousing blend of psychedelic drenched communal hand clapping wrapped in impeccable three-part harmony on “California,” a deep cut off 2006 EP Takers and Leavers: “California / where the warm sun shines / California / hear the wind blowing chimes / Californ-i-a / though you’re far away / your love is here today.”