Dr. Dog Charms The (Fairly) Newly Renovated Palace Theater

Alright it opened last year but I’m late, anyway Dr. Dog played

Dr.Dog 20180506 web 04
Dr.Dog 20180506 web 04

I am beyond excited tonight. I finally get to visit downtown St. Paul’s newly renovated Palace Theatre. And it’s Dr. Dog to beat. Charmed.

It’s bigger in here than I’d expected, the din of the milling crowd bouncing up to and echoing back down from the lofty, half-renovated balcony. This state of half renovation is termed ‘suspended deterioration,’ the bartender tells me, if we want to get architectural. There is a lot of history here. Most of the decor is preserved. The bar and restrooms are brand-sparkling new. The floor is sticky beyond belief, like it has not seen a mop since bell-bottomed movie-goers last spilled root-beer fizzes here forty years ago. The drinks are expensive. The crowd is fidgety. The lights go down.

Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Dr. Dog comes on without speaking. There is a smoke machine running full steam and blue gels back-light the stage. They begin with a song from my favorite record, 2008’s Fate, whose title is just right there on my tongue’s tip but for the life of me I just can’t… Give me a minute, I’ll get there, but while we wait let’s chat.

Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Okay so Dr. Dog. Where do I start? Phillie. Not exactly the home of psych-folk but wherever the hat hangs, I suppose. This band has been around for a really long time (official beginnings debatable, but for our purposes we’ll say roundabouts the turn of the millennium) and their sound has seen many transmutations. Early demos and EP’s are straight lo-fi indie (think Guided By Voices or like a more smiley Mountain Goats) but over time they’ve cemented themselves as a psychedelic folk group, in a word or two.

Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Americana is not pervasive, but present. Beach Boys-esque backing vox are ubiquitous. This band lives in little room almost entirely by themselves. Does it get lonely in there? Perhaps solitude is not a consequence of but a reward for particularity. Okay I may be stalling now but it’s song two and I still haven’t pried that title from my tongue so we’ll move on it if pleases you.


Photo by Kathleen Ambre

The lighting is very high production. I’ve seen this group once before, a few years back at Surly Brewing, and my memory serves up a significantly more dialed-back presentation. I suppose though that there is only so far you can go with lighting at an outdoor show on a midsummer’s eve. Anyhow, tonight we’re indoors and it is dark and smokey and they’ve seemingly upped their game for this tour (which is in support of a new album(!) may have forgotten to mention that but we’ll circle back around later, I’m in the middle of a sentence here) lighting wise. The house is packed. We are all beginning to forget about our lives and just tune in. Song two is from the new album whiiiiich is calledCritical Equation (here we are, you didn’t even have to wait that long, quit interrupting.)

Photo by Kathleen Ambre

This collection came out just a few days ago, April 27th to be exact, and it’s a return-to-form to what I will proclaim, from the end of this limb, is the band’s best collection, Fate. The last handful of albums were lovely, I was charmed, so sweet, really fantastic folks, the lot of them, and don’t get me wrong, I’d never speak a mouse’s squeak or one single negative syllable about any of ‘em, please don’t misread me here… But this new one is just good in a Fateful way.

Photo by Kathleen Ambre

This song they’re playing now is called “Go Out Fighting.” We get a lot of what looks and sounds like an original Fender Rhodes and it’s all swirly and delicious and soft like a pint of some of that co-op ice cream. I’ve gotten to the point now where I’ve let my hair down and fully committed myself to looking like an absolute madman. The people around me are indifferent or equally mad. This music makes losing your mind really quite simple.

Everybody knows that feeling
Everybody knows desire
Now we’re coming down, down to the wire
Now we’re coming down, down to the wire

Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Perhaps four songs in, they play through one of their biggest hits, “Lonesome,” from 2012’s Be The Void, and oh boy this crowd sounds delightful. Somebody’s sparked a joint nearby. Dancing isn’t the right word for what’s happening but it will have to suffice. We get a fairly even distribution: songs from Abandoned Mansion, from Fate, from Critical Equation, from Shame, Shame, from Be The Void. Fans of the first three records must really be having a bummer of a night, though–the band plays absolutely zero ‘old shit.’ I doubt they ever do, really.

Photo by Kathleen Ambre

I’ll draw a comparison now that I’ve just decided is totally true (and that’s that): Dr. Dog is parallel with Modest Mouse in being a band that drew the bedrock of their fan-base three or four albums deep. Most bands don’t make it that far. What was that earlier about the solitude of individuality? How about the solitude of longevity, the level of pure donkey-headedness it takes to stick around and keep paying rent on that rehearsal space after three records of obscurity… Stalling again, apologies.

After what I’ve counted as eighteen songs and only two instances of direct performer-to-audience discourse (these guys let the songs speak for themselves) Dr. Dog dips out stage right. It’s a matter of volume now, of pure din, of 3,000 people (I didn’t Google the Palace’s max cap. but that number feels round enough) of 30,000 voices (sure) all asking for more and more until everyone has made sufficient noise and expressed adequate desire and here, we’re back, and isn’t this ritual of the encore such a goony goof? What we’re trying to give you is more. Extra. 50{a43c2147d37bcf8b898f59ebaaf066dc60bd9fbfc7430ae40ed3f9adbaab469e} more free, there’s a prize in the box…

The prizes:

“How Long Must I Wait” (Be The Void)

“Bring My Baby Back” (Psychedelic Swamp)

“Heart Killer” (Critical Equation)

“Jackie Wants a Black Eye” (Shame, Shame)

“Heart It Races” (We All Belong)–okay this song officially counts as ‘old shit’ but, at the same time, it was the band’s first airwave surfer so it’s not precisely obscure. Hopefully it’s enough for the ‘I-only-dig-the-first-three’ crowd and everyone can leave happy.

Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Alright and hey, I really wanted to hear all those songs, it was a certified treat, thanks for coming back out guys. I’m out of The Palace and into the plaza and so is just about everyone else – there’s been a flow, a flood, a deluge of bodies bottle-necking out the doors and we all linger in the moonlit plaza for a bit and bum cigarettes from each other and ask each other what the best part was and either agree or disagree – but even disagreement just leads to another separate best part and gosh: The Palace is sugary sweet in its chilly spaciousness and Dr. Dog is the usual tangy-tart and my whole tongue is visibly vibrating with tastes and my ears are ringing and my whole body is wrung out and tingling in a very distinctly post-show manner. Until next time, St. Paul. Toodles.

Full set list:

1: (still haven’t gotten there)

2: Go Out Fighting

3: Shadow People

4: Buzzing In The Light

5: Lonesome

6: Heavy Light

7: Keep a Friend

8: Listening In

9: Army Of Ancients

10: The Breeze

11: Broken Heart

12: Peace Of Mind

13: Nellie

14: (think I was in the bathroom for this one)

15: Coming Out Of The Darkness

16: Do The Trick

17: That Old Black Hole

18: Abandoned Mansion

  • ENCORE    

1: How Long Must I Wait

2: Bring My Baby Back

3: Heart Killer

4: Jackie Wants a Black Eye

5: Heart It Races


Written by Harley Patton

Writer and reader in Minneapolis, Minnesota


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