As this week’s cover illustrates, Philly bands had a great showing at South By Southwest this year. Man Man headlined the popular Mess With Texas show. Free Energy converted fans at a Rolling Stone party and a gaggle of other shows, and Bill Murray showed up to see West Philly’s Grandchildren. And then there was Dr. Dog, another West Philly band, who worked as hard as anyone in Austin in support of their new album Shame, Shame (out April 6).
The week following SXSW, the music blogs were atwitter with favorite shows, favorite moments, favorite new discoveries. Dr. Dog’s name appeared in a fair percentage of them, even named one of the top five shows of the festival by Wired , who were “blown away” by the performance they saw.
That’s what Dr. Dog do, even when odds are stacked against it.
Example: Of the half dozen or so shows Dr. Dog played in Austin over SXSW, the Austin Convention Center was probably the wrong one to go to. But that’s where they fit in my schedule.
The place is sterile. And huge. People head to ACC in the middle of a sun-soaked day for respite when their hotel is too far a walk. So they limp over to the centrally located Center to go indoors, and if they happen to catch Dr. Dog or see Ann Powers signing copies of her book, then so be it.
The Day Stage Cafe at the ACC, where Dr. Dog performed, has oversized floor pillows in the back for people to sleep on ... and people actually do this as bands play. People are eating plates of barbecue on round tables in the back too, about 25 yards away from the stage. Mother of all uphill battles, this set.
The Current, the radio station in Minnesota that former Y-Rock DJ Jim McGuinn left Philly to work for, sponsored the show. McGuinn introduced the band, who walked onstage to a smattering of applause from the tired crowd of 500 or so.
It started low key. Given the time of day (4 p.m.) and the venue, how could it not? But by the time Dr. Dog got through some of the more woozy singalongs of 2008’s Fate, it started to gel. New songs off Shame, Shame were just as polished as old nuggets, and Dr. Dog proved to be masters of the long lost art of the set list. You build from a gradual, subtle hum, and before the crowd even realizes it, you’ve ripped their throats out with your bare hand. You show it to them, and end the set.
After the crowd was coaxed from their cozy beds in back McGuinn went back up on stage, plugged Shame, Shame and said, “Dr. Dog, ladies and gentleman. One of the best bands working today.”
No one present would dare argue.
Like our restaurant scene, Philadelphia’s music community is in the midst of a renaissance. The regeneration was on abundant display during SXSW, where, no matter where you went, a band from Philly was on the tip of someone’s tongue, in front of their eyes or ringing in their ears. Even Bill Murray’s.
Time for a big Bang breakthrough?