Shame, Shame, which hits stores today, showcases the band’s new grown-up style.
Four years ago, Dr. Dog played a show at the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute. I was 18 years old and brand new to the city, and my boyfriend at the time made us run past the flags lining JFK Boulevard to get to the concert on time. It was crowded but not too crowded – an average-sized group of kids who all looked like art students to me, with their paint-splattered T-shirts and neon-colored skinny jeans.
As Dr. Dog began to play, the universe above began to swirl, and all of us waiting eagerly around the stage started to sway, our movements guided both by the music and by the planets and stars shifting overhead.
Back then, Dr. Dog was still a relatively little-known band from Philadelphia. Their breakout album, Easy Beat, had just dropped the previous spring, and they had just completed their first cross-country tour.
They were wearing sunglasses, so you couldn’t tell, but as bassist and co-frontman Toby Leaman put it, “We played that show with our eyes toward the stars.”
A lot has changed in four years. I grew up, and Dr. Dog grew up, too. They began touring constantly and gained a reputation for their energetic live performances and lo-fi brand of Beatles-esque pop. They released two more albums, We All Belong and Fate, on local label Park the Van Records, then signed with indie powerhouse Anti- Records in July 2009. Right around the same time, their song “My Friend” was used in the Judd Apatow film Funny People.
Now they’ve released their most definitive work yet: Shame, Shame, a streamlined album that hits records stores and iTunes today. Dark and moody at times, uplifting at others, Shame, Shame is Dr. Dog at their finest – a feast of jam-worthy psychedelic rock and blues-tinged pop, perfect for blasting during road trips.
Leaman said that he and his bandmates – lead guitarist and co-frontman Scott McMicken, rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller and drummer Eric Slick – wanted the album to have the same kind of energy as the band’s live performances.
“We’ve sort of gotten to the point where we’re known more as a live band, and our albums are so dissimilar from what we do on stage,” he said. “Our live shows are much more driven by the vibe of the audience, much more immediate and off-the-cuff, and that’s what we tried to do with this album.”
The instrumentation on this album is a lot simpler than what Dr. Dog fans might be used to. While previous albums included lots of horn and string arrangements on top of the band’s guitar, drum and keyboard work, Shame, Shame marks a move toward, well, an easier beat.
“At no point in this album do we have any more than five different things happening at once,” Leaman said. “Which is great, because it means that when we perform live, every part can be played.”
The band will begin touring in support of the album next week, making a stop at the Electric Factory on May 13 and eventually winding their way down to the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., on June 11.
This will be their third time playing the festival. While they don’t have anything crazy up their sleeves – unlike the Flaming Lips, who are set to play Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety – this tour will mark the first time they’ve ever traveled with a lights guy, so Bonnaroo attendees can certainly expect a mind-altering experience.
“We’ve talked about it a lot, but we don’t know exactly what we’re doing just yet,” Leaman said. “Lights are important, though, because they determine the mood of the entire show. Without them, you have to do that on your own as a band.”
Like many other bands, Dr. Dog has a love-hate relationship with touring, as evidenced by the Shame, Shame song “Station,” which Leaman wrote about moving to Delaware with his wife and then being on the road 24/7.
“In some ways, it’s great because you get so close to the people you’re touring with,” he said. “The band, we’re actually friends. There’s no tension. But it’s hard because we’re always away from family and always in different cities and confused every time we get off the bus. You never know where to do your laundry or eat lunch. I’d love to get to the point where we could tour about half as much as we do, but for now, we’ve gotta do what we gotta do.”
Doing what they’ve gotta do, he said, also means continuing to grow as a band.
“We used to play around with a lot of different sounds,” he said. “But there’s no need for us to do that now. Every album, we’re just trying to refine our style and get better.”
Anna Hyclak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.