By Blake Nelson
I strolled into Cargo Concert Hall on Tuesday’s cold night, ready to see Dr. Dog and Hop Along. The two bands are similarly known for styles ranging from indie folk to baroque pop. While both bands have toured extensively, this was the first time either had performed in Reno.
Arriving a little early gave me the opportunity to take in the venue, which is one of the newest in town. The venue consists of a wide open floor plan, a full bar on the far wall and a large stage, perfect for what was to come.
The venue didn’t necessarily fill up for the first band, but the majority of people that did show up early were there specifically to see Hop Along.
Hop Along came out on the stage with little more than a glance at the crowd and quickly set up, something that is usually associated with shyness, causing the crowd to fall into a nervous silence the moment before Hop Along started. Yet the band jumped right into its first song “The Knock,” perfectly exhibiting the range of lead singer Frances Quinlan’s powerful voice, going from strong vocals that crescendo at the chorus to quiet almost whisper-like verses.
The band paused just long enough between songs to tune up and speak about touring with a favorite band of theirs, mentioning that it was the band’s first time visiting Reno.
Going from song to song, the band ran through its set effortlessly by virtue of a rigorous touring schedule. Though the band has been on tour for much of 2015 following the success of its album “Painted Shut,” the group still played wonderfully, never sounding overworked or unhappy to be performing for fans.
The set was succinct, consisting of around nine songs, mostly from “Painted Shut” and a couple of tracks from previous effort “Get Disowned.” It was a shame considering how the band had the crowd excited and exuberantly shouting for Hop Along to return once it had exited. By the end, the crowd wasn’t only made up of Hop Along fans. However, this short set might have boded well for the band in the end, due to what was to come.
By the time Hop Along had made its exit Cargo was filling up with people in their late teens all the way to their late twenties who were milling in for the headliner — Dr. Dog. After taking what seemed like an inordinate amount of time to set up, nearly 15 minutes, Dr. Dog came on stage. The large band composed of six musicians spread out on the expansive stage.
The band came out strong, starting with a hit off its popular 2012 album “Be The Void” named “How Long Must I Wait?” The hit spurred the crowd into revelry as they jumped and, occasionally, sang along with the chorus.
The band then skipped around from its three most recent albums to the crowd’s delight. Playing such hits as “Distant Light,” “Shadow People,” and “Lonesome,” the mood varied between loud and boisterous to mellow and contemplative.
Throughout the set Dr. Dog maintained a lively energy, dancing about while trying to keep sunglasses and hats on, playing to the crowd’s expectation … a little too perfectly.
It was about 30 minutes into the band’s set that I realized that the songs all started to blend together, and necessarily by design. The songs all started with a driving drumbeat and occasional instrument juggling between the band members, which proved to be somewhat of a gimmick.
The band played for over an hour, and it was a long hour due to the sound being somewhere between danceable pop punk and slow-paced indie. This middle-of-the-road aesthetic even had the crowd confused at times. The crowd would be dancing at points and within seconds swaying and trying to sing along to the slower parts of the songs.
Even though the band had peaked stylistically around the third song, the crowd was still enjoying the show past the 30-minute mark. This led me to wonder if I just wasn’t a fan of the band’s style, and “just wasn’t getting it.” Then I remembered a shirt I had spied in the merchandise section earlier that read “Dr. Dog: Touring Band.”
While I first took the shirt to be an odd joke, as the set moved on past 30 minutes I realized that this shirt might be touching on something more than just a joke: the band was playing to the hits because that’s what sells tickets.
Something inauthentic seems to occur with this sort of crowd servicing; of course other bands do it too, but Dr. Dog was playing to this “touring band” persona a little too well. Never was I fully engaged by the performance that seemed formulaic, nor was I convinced the band hadn’t done this many times before.
Around the 50-minute mark the lead singer and bassist Toby Leaman of Dr. Dog, in typical “rock-star” fashion, took it upon himself to crowd surf. This seemed to have caught the crowd off-guard because they didn’t keep him afloat for very long, which lent itself to the routine feeling of the show.
After security struggled to get Leaman back onstage the band played through two or three more songs and ended on another unremarkable song, of course to the crowd’s delight.
The band exited the stage after the climax of the last song, which was immediately followed by the crowd cheering and eventually calling for an encore. I found this to be strange due to the fact that Dr. Dog seemed to have played for an overly long time as it was and had played all its hits.
The band came back onstage after around five minutes and played yet another popular song, then when that wrapped up Dr. Dog asked the crowd what to play. The crowd called out a variety of obscure tracks and the band eventually settled on the cover “Heart It Races,” then ended on “The Rabbit, The Bat, and The Reindeer.”
The concert fizzled out under the pressure of an overloaded set and a fan-servicing band playing to the lowest common denominator. As I left I was exhausted rather than excited by the performance, making it feel like an endurance test.
It seemed that if you were a fan of Dr. Dog then the concert would have been perfect, if you like to see a band you like play every hit they have back to back in an indistinguishable way. But hey, maybe I really “just didn’t get it.”
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @b_e_nelson.