Review: Dr. Dog – Easybeat

Dr. Dog – Easy Street (National Parking)

I love to check out bands on Myspace. That’s how I find music these days. It’s a perfectly egalitarian system. You get a few pictures & four songs, whether you’re Sting or The Hangnails. During one of my semi-inebriated late-night trowels I stumbled onto Dr. Dog. What I heard really intrigued me, so I bought their cd, Easybeat. While waiting for it to arrive I read some reviews that mentioned their overt Beatle-ness. A few really slagged them for it, like saying, ‘We’re so over this, dude’. Well it arrived today and I’m on listen number six. I suppose it can be called Beatle-esque in that it has harmony, melody, & unexpected juxtapositions of musical elements (i.e. string quartets giving way to garage-band breaks, sing-alongs that pop out of nowhere, feedback over augmented chords). There is nothing here that is ripped from the fabs, save for one tossed-off Obladi-ish bass line on the opening number. Mostly what is Beatle-esque is an obvious striving to make something that’s going to stick around. Not to say it’s pretentious or precious in any way, it’s just that it’s obvious these guys are shooting for something. There is intent here that goes beyond writing a good or even catchy song. And like the Beatles, it walks the line between melancholia and jubilation, often in the same song. Mostly, it sounds like a band in a room dicking around and having a lot of fun. Sonically, It has the weird lo-fi weirdness of the Basement Tapes. No high end at all, which is kinda neat. Gives the ears an unexpected rest. It was recorded on a 1/4″ 8-track, probably the same Fostex I have in my closet. It’s a magical little machine that may have contributed to the discs hazy mood. There are correlations between Easybeat & the two Simon Dawes EP’s, which have a similar fly-by-the-seat sound of the Kinks recording in a tool shed. Like the Dawes records, vocals distort, people go off microphone, and ragged harmonies are left in with the spot-on ones. Such a simple act, and one that could be interpreted as a careless one, but the bravery of leaving the grit in results in a sound that’s soothingly human, a sound you can snuggle up to. Couple that with the great songs these guys write, and you got something that’s essential. I hope no one gives them a budget for the next record, either.

Chuck Berry at BB King’s

Got dragged to see Chuck Berry at BB Kings by my friend, Dave. Never been there before. He handed me a ticket as we walked in. I looked at the price: $90. I asked him if he was completely insane as we went down the stairs. He was going to take one of his girlfriends, but her back was giving her pain.
The place is about as rock and roll as a shot glass filled with Kaopectate. It’s a dinner theater setup, like if they ran the Bottom Line through the dryer three times too many. Japanese, Fins, Brits, Des Moinees – a tourist trap set in the middle of Times Square Land. We stood at the bar and watched fat people eat chicken and spill beer on their tiny cameras. Two big screens flank the small stage and they kept scrolling upcoming shows in a loop: Rick Wakeman (of Yes), Keith Emerson (of ELP), Paul Barerre (of Little Feat), Jan Hammer (of nothing), Southside Johnny (& the Asbury Jukes), Seven Seagal (does he just do karate moves?). Very strange how this seemingly random group of musicians end up at this final frontier.
I bought us 2 beers for $15 and waited for Chuck. What was I expecting? He’s 80. Hasn’t made a record since ‘Rockit’ back in 1980. That one was pretty damn good. I half-expected them to wheel out some wizened old critter in a wheelchair with a dribble cup snapped to his collar. The lights dimmed and a band came out. Chuck is legendary for just using pickup guys, playing indifferent shows, and getting off the stage at the one hour mark. This band was some Papa Chubby New Orleans funk outfit that were popular on the dreaded jam band circuit. They were going on themselves after Chuck. They assembled onstage at 8:10 and started playing a Chuck Berry-esqe rhythm. Pretty faceless except for the keyboard player who sounded like the ghost of recently departed Johnny Johnson, Chuck’s old mainstay.
They kept playing their shuffle, looking fidgety toward the wings for Chuck. Suddenly, this guitar came blaring out of nowhere. It sounded like some avant-garde deconstruction of an old rock & roll style. That, or Keith Richard’s right after he fell out of the tree and cracked his cocoanut. It was LOUD. They were playing in A Major, but the disembodied sound kept drifting to A Flat, then B Flat. My friend said, “He must be drunk”. Then a roar came from the front as Chuck strutted from the wings in a red sequined shirt and a pair on slacks. The people seemed to have no idea that he wasn’t playing anything near what the band was playing. They were screaming and hollaring, and Chuck kept on with his Sonic Youth impersonation. Not only wasn’t he drunk, he was lean, muscular, and smiling. The bass player called something over to him and he smiled and slid into A major.
They played all the hits over the next hour. Chuck was playing a BB King Gibson ES 335 through a Fender Twin and he sounded fantastic and raw. I started to appreciate the tonal lapses that would grace all these songs. Everytime he hit a really atonal lick I screamed out, “Go, Man, Go”. The beer flowed and the Danes, Dutchmen, and Somoans cheered. He played two of my non-hit faves, “Let It Rock” and “Reelin’ & Rockin’ (which is not ‘Around & Around’ – he played that, too). One thing that was interesting was that he really used a lot of dynamics. When all the bands of yore played their obligatory CB number, it was always an excuse to go balls-to-the-wall. But Chuck would start certain songs real quiet and reach crescendos, then pull back, over & over. It was very enlightening.
The only real drag was the second guitarist. He was playing a Fender Squire that sounded like thin shit. He was terrible, too. After the first solo Chuck gave him, he smiled broadly and said, “Here’s something you don’t know – that’s my son!!” A loud roar went up. “Here’s something else you don’t know: I’m still married to his mother!” Louder cheer. The guy really sucked. Nepotism at its worst. Chuck, thanfully, took the lion’s share of the solos. During ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ he went onto the drum riser and started egging the drummer accent his phrases. He turned his guitar even louder and the ensuing raunch (which stayed in key) was the highlight of the night. 80 years old? I shook my head. He had a great line when the keyboard player missed a change on ‘Memphis’. He looked his way, smiled, and said “Son, we’ll make a hillbilly outta you yet”. After one song, he was talking about New York, how he likes it because it’s all about making money and everyone here is rich and he happy to see that. “You all know what I’m talking about, right?” That met with big applause.
During ‘Johnny B Goode’ Chuck invited ‘all the ladies’ on stage. A bunch of young good looking Swiss, Tawainese, Belgian, and Inuit babes rushed the stage and were dancing like they were on Hullabaloo. One woman with a fat ass was dancing provacatively at Chuck’s side and he turned and aimed the neck of his guitar right at her crotch and launched into his most atonal barrage yet. It was vulgar and the crowd ate it up. Then he walked off the stage, still playing, as the girls shimmied and his son said, “Let’s hear it for my father, Mr. Chuck Berry”!! I looked at my watch – it was exactly 9:10.

Fade In

  Hello all. I’ve been sending out my little opinionated bon-mots to my close friends and musical colleagues for a few years now. My pal, Gary ‘Pig’ Gold, turned me on to LITG and said it would be a great place to share my scribbles with the wider world. I knew I was in the right place when I saw artwork being advertised featuring Emitt Rhodes & Swamp Dogg.
   So I want to first thank Gary for pointing me here and to thank Kim Cooper for giving me a piece of her floor to hang out on. My mother says one of my first words was "rekka" (as I would point at the family Victrola) and that I would spend so much time staring transfixed at the damn thing, she thought something was deeply wrong with me. Unfortunately, her deepest fears proved correct…