Dr. Dog’s rock rolls through the Riviera

Stage design for bands has gotten a lot more elaborate in recent years. Whereas some cool lights and maybe a large banner used to be the norm, many groups you see today, even within the rock sphere of things, will likely utilize some outlandish jumbotron playing fantastic animations, or have weird light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. These are certainly nice to look at, but bands like Dr. Dog seem to know that you don’t need crazy set pieces to play good music and have a good time.

At the Riviera Theatre on Saturday, where the band played a headlining show to a sold out crowd, Dr. Dog adorned the stage with what looked like parts of an old movie theatre or bowling alley. The main fixture was a large half-circle that lit up spectacularly, dimming during slow tunes and shining brilliantly throughout the band’s most lively numbers. The only other set piece was, peculiarly, an old lighted sign that can be found on the front facade of many clubs and bars, with magnetic lettering that spelled out, “A COUPLE TWO TREE DOGS.” Exactly what this means is anyone’s guess – it could be a sacred chant or summoning spell, or perhaps just some weird in-joke.

As a band with a heavy touring schedule, Dr. Dog might be accustomed to less than enthusiastic crowd response at times. They just finished a long tour with Top 40 darlings The Lumineers, which according to singer and guitarist Scott McMicken, was an experience that put their music into perspective. The audience at the Riv, however, was certainly made up of more than just casual fans. Nearly every word of each song could be heard emanating from the crowd, and the energy seemed to carry over onto the stage, as Dr. Dog played a blistering, nearly hour-and-ahalf long set. The band covered all their fan favorites, including “That Old Black Hole,” “Shadow People,” and the chant-friendly “Lonesome.” Not even stopping to catch their breath more than a couple times, McMicken and crew appeared committed to giving all they could, even playing four songs in an encore.

In an interview with The DePaulia last week, McMicken talked about juggling songwriting priorities and whether to focus on a gritty live sound or a polished album-ready sheen. He described how the band’s members, over their decade-long history, have learned to balance the two and create one cohesive vision on album. Something that McMicken spoke enthusiastically about was the band’s decision to build their own recording studio in their native Pennsylvania. The entire process of making the studio in which they recorded their latest release, “The B-Room,” was something of a team building exercise for Dr. Dog. McMicken explained that the band emerged from the experience more unified and ready to take their touring schedule by storm.

“We were all really excited to have a new space,” McMicken said. “The process of getting it ready, designing and building it, flowed seamlessly into the recording, right into the musical side of it. By the time we had it ready, we had spent a month and a half in this great bonding experience, and we felt really inspired by the time it was finished.”

That bonding comes through in the band’s new songs, which during their performance rode a wave of emotional depth, from longing and loneliness to joy and jubilation.

Dr. Dog are, essentially, just a fun band. They don’t need visual excess or even much sonic trickery to hold the attention of the audience. Despite the sometimes muddy acoustics of the space, McMicken’s guitar and Toby Leaman’s bass shone through. McMicken admitted that the band was more comfortable in smaller rooms, something their sound definitely lends itself to. Dr. Dog have been together since McMicken and Leaman were in middle school, and by all indications, they will be around for the foreseeable future, continuing to tour their hearts out and play more brilliant shows like this one.