October 13, 2008

10/10: Dr. Dog & Delta Spirit @ Middle East Downstairs

There is a certain type of show that stays with you for a good, long time...and the Americana rock trinity who took a sold-out Middle East Downstairs by storm on Friday night certainly delivered one of them.

It is not often that a first-opener does anything for you except give you a chance to grab another beer, go outside for a smoke, and/or hold your ears shut and scream in agony. Not so, however, with Hacienda, a San Antonio quartet who stayed true to their roots with a solidly talented 45-minute set of Beatles-infused soul rock. Songs like "Hear Me Crying" and "She's Got a Hold On Me" had the audience thoroughly converted; then, a strange thing happened: these scruffy Texas boys got the hipsters to dance. Indeed, a considerably large circle of plaided, skinny-jeaned kids in the center of the dance floor began moving, to the beat of the music, and apparently enjoying themselves. The set ended with a guest harmonica appearance by the fedora'd and well-received Scott McMicken (of Dr. Dog)--this show was to be henceforth fraught with collaboration, one of the most impressive qualities of the performances. It should go without saying that Hacienda went above and beyond the call of duty and demonstrated what opening bands should have had from the beginning: talent. Take note, fledglings.

Up next was the grungy blues-folk powerhouse, Delta Spirit. It's a miracle and a blessing how Matt Vasquez (lead vocals, guitar) keeps his larynx intact after so much screaming. The lyrics "If you're feelin' what I'm feelin', come on/All you soul-searchin' people, come on!" resonated throughout the club, with a couple hundred people screaming it back onto the stage. Delta Spirit seemed relatively indifferent to their adoring fans, smiling only once or twice if at all, but it's safe to say that the fans themselves could not have cared less. Yet again, hipsters (and bros alike!) danced, and the set ended with even MORE collaboration, with every member of Dr. Dog flooding the stage with drumsticks, maracas, and awesomeness.

Finally, after hours and hours of waiting, the headliners arrived onstage—and by no means was the waiting in vain. Dr. Dog, the charismatic indie-blues quintet birthed in Philadelphia, kicked off a power hour of punch-you-in-the-gut folk rock with the song “The Old Days” from their newest album, Fate. Following this was a whirlwind of old and new material, including songs like “Hang On,” “The Girl,” “100 Years,” and “The Beach.” And the encore…oh, the encore. While the crowd had been shouting for a number of songs throughout the set, no one song title was thrown out more than “Die Die Die,” which rumbled into existence as the band re-mounted the stage and every voice in the club began singing—or wailing—along. By the end, every member of both Hacienda and Delta Spirit had joined the band onstage, Vasquez complete with a coffee pot full of beer, in a full-blown cacophony of what can only be described as the very essence of thumping, rasping, good old American blues. As a fan put it numerous times, screaming over the crowd’s roar, holding his hands to the sides of his head in disbelief, “Oh my god! This! Is! Incredible! Best night of my life!”

To put it simply, listening to recordings of this band is not enough to appreciate the full talent that is the work of McMicken (lead guitar & vocals), Toby Leaman (bass & vocals), Zach Miller (keys & vocals), Juston Sens (drums & vocals), and Frank McElroy (rhythm guitar & vocals). With each song’s performance came even louder, more soulful laments than their albums could have communicated. There’s definitely something to be said for a band that makes great records and then manages to render the music even more spectacular by roughing it up completely. The grating harshness of Dr. Dog’s live set qualified the whole night as an unforgettable show, one that should not, under any circumstances, be missed when it comes to town again.

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