On its cross-country tour two years ago, Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog—a quirky, lovable indie-soul band—packed bars that held 200 people when the fire department wasn’t looking. Last year, Dr. Dog electrified crowds at 400 to 500 capacity clubs, and this spring the endearing, addicting band is filling even bigger theaters. Luckily for New Mexicans, Dr. Dog still loves to play the rare smaller gig, and getting bigger certainly hasn’t made the band cocky.
“We never expected or yearned for instant success because it can be fleeting and it seems like it’s difficult to sustain,” keyboardist Zach Miller says. “Our level of success has made our lives more comfortable and stable, but we’re definitely not rolling in it. We have steady jobs doing what we love and we live modestly.”
Formed in Philly in ’99, Dr. Dog's career got a boost when its last album, 2008's Fate, got the hippie vote via a Relix cover story. Fate juxtaposes the dusty grit of The Band with the near-cheese of early Steely Dan, subtly hinting at the irreverence of Dylan’s Basement Tapes and fellow Philly hero The Dead Milkmen. There’s nothing particularly jammy about Dr. Dog’s music. Still, a few minutes into a show, between the onstage calisthenics of the band’s two disparate frontmen—Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman—and the intense connection the group has with its audience, it’s obvious why fans of the Grateful Dead and Phish would be interested in these guys.
Through the years, on tracks like “Oh No” and “The Way The Lazy Do,” Dr. Dog has indulged in Let It Be-esque rock ’n’ roll suites that warm the soul on headphones and can enrapture an audience. Miller claims that a more insular recording process made Shame, Shame, the band’s so-so sixth album released in early April, more straightforward than past Dr. Dog albums.
“We were less inclined to include outside musicians and instruments,” Miller explains. “We wanted to keep to a tightknit band feel and focus on the songs, so we only used traditional rock instruments. Despite the lack of orchestral instruments and arrangements,” he adds, “I still think we had a lot of great textures on the record. We wanted to take a much more direct approach with this record, and I think it really served the songs well.”
The McMicken-led “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” the new album’s standout track, with its bouncy tenderness, could function well as a Dr. Dog mission statement. As the chorus explains: “We’re all in it together now as we all fall apart / swapping little pieces of our broken little hearts.”