Spring Break came with impeccable timing this year. Brian and I both filled our briefcases full of student homework, shuffled out of the school doors and entered break with a little Dr. Dog and Golden Boots on the brain. Fate was on our top album list in 2008, and Winter of our Discotheque was one of the first Park the Van albums we reviewed in this new budding year. The fact that the double bill was going down in our state’s capitol, a mere two hours away, was an added bonus. The Monday night may well have been a weekend for us. We’re teachers and only get paid to work a measly 180 days of the year anyways.
The dimly lit Basement is an interesting Columbus venue, with a subterranean vibe enhanced by dark exposed brick and chain linked fences blocking off unfinished areas. Brian and I couldn’t come to a distinct conclusion as to whether these blocked off areas were indeed unfinished, or purposely constructed for ambiance. The low ceilings and strangely long bar area create two distinct sections to the hall. The stage area is super small and intimate, with a sunken floor immediately in front with enough room for about thirty noble fans willing to deal with elbow-to-elbow hispster nodding. (We stationed ourselves at ground level, just behind the lowered area and were constantly jostled by folks thinking they could squeeze into the tiny recess; they were all wrong, but we did get that old-timey sardine feeling.) The bar is more spaced out and spans from the diminutive stage area clear to the back. Our initial impression was that The Basement was more bar than concert hall, but when Golden Boots hit the stage it all made sense. The ownership of the club had intimate concerts in mind, and bands that play here are front and center playing their guts out for audience members just a few feet away.
When we first rolled in, Golden Boots were knee deep in sound check and once we had found our spots, the band quickly decided the levels were close enough for government work and launched into louder and more provocative renditions of Winter of our Discotheque material. The five piece had two drummers, one playing the snare with a tambourine and the other banging mallets and sticks on the skins; the percussion kicked ass all set, and the album’s studio bells and whistles were recreated well with the two extra arms holding it down behind the scenes. Another flourish of the recorded work is the electronic beeps and pings, which Dmitri Manos was able to match with a keyboard synthesizer linked up to his guitar. The acoustic qualities of the record took on a more bluesy and muscular tone when translated live, and although the two sounds were markedly different we came to a solid conclusion. On one hand, this Tucson band’s studio work exhibits a tightly constructed effort of musical arrangement. The live sound, however, is grumbly and visceral. On the album, Golden Boots wears the finest business attire, but let down their hair and kick off their shoes when people ask them to play.
Golden Boots is eclectic. Their sound has been described as alt-alt-country on previous efforts, and the overall sound is difficult to pinpoint. When they played songs like “Heatwave” and “Black and Blue,” however, a psychedelic blues tour-de-force leaped outward into the packed house. Dudes came to play ball and the audience did, too, with many fans belting out the lyrics line by line along with the band. Hand-claps and trippy solos drizzled the entire set until everyone was good and ready for Dr. Dog to take the stage; given the psych-rock edges to Dr. Dog’s work, Golden Boots both pleased the crowd and primed them for the next act. It should be mentioned that Golden Boots held their own entirely and we’d certainly hop on board to see them in a headlining role as soon as it happens.
From the moment they stepped on stage, it was clear that Dr. Dog were immensely talented, joyously energetic and a lock tight live unit. All three qualities were on display in the set’s opener, “The Ark.” Bassist Toby Leaman pulled gravelly vocals from his gullet before stepping back to lay down fat riffs while doing a shuffling jig, while guitarists Frank McElroy and Scott McMicken bounced around the stage; it was miraculous that they didn’t collide on the small stage, let alone mange to eke out a near telepathic level of musical unity; dudes have clearly been playing together for a while. (It probably sucks to play euchre with them.)
Everybody in the house was sweating after that first song; the joint was packed, people were grooving hard and the band was letting it all hang out. Dr. Dog was clearly in town to rock as hard as possible; the songs themselves are chockful of emotion and the band wrenches every drop of it out of them. It seemed that they were playing each song like it was their last shot at it. Songs that kill on record are, shockingly, better live. While they played some old favorites, like “Worst Trip, ” there was a clear emphasis on material from Fate. (Sadly, we did not retrieve a setlist, but our notes indicate that they played everything but “100 Years” from that record.) The songs on that album that hit the hardest, “Army of Ancients” and “The Beach” absolutely murdered live. When Leaman grabbed that “I’m sorry” in the middle of the former song, there wasn’t a neck in the house that didn’t have raised hairs.
Dr. Dog appears to know that their songs are good; they’re not doing a lot of fiddling with the songs themselves on stage; while they’re pumping in energy and fervor, they’re still hewing fairly close to the recorded material. What’s clear throughout is the level of sheer talent on display; many of the songs are intricate and complex, and Dr. Dog didn’t dumb anything down. McElroy shredded all night, perhaps most notably on the set closer “The Rabbit, The Bat and The Reindeer.” (That song, by the way was a perfect closer, big and bold with sing-alongs and hand-claps.) The multiple part harmonies were also sweet throughout, dancing behind both McMicken and Leaman with aplomb.
Leaman wrapped up the set by announcing “We’re going to play a few more and let you get on with your week.” This summed up the evening fairly well. Dr. Dog and Golden Boots are both working bands; you get the sense that they’re lunchpail kind of acts, going to the office, kicking out the jams and then packing up for the next town. We’re sure that wherever they are tomorrow night, they won’t leave anything on the stage. You’ll leave sated.
“Love is in the Air” – Golden Boots
Grab some more Golden Boots at Insound.
“Worst Trip” – Dr. Dog
Round out your Dr. Dog collection at Insound.