It’s a firmly held belief for me that Haw River Ballroom is the finest venue in the state, and each show I attend at the gorgeous venue drives that point further and further home. Between the fine gas station dining of the Saxapahaw General Store (it’s not at all what it sounds like, incredible food with a diverse menu!) and the breath taking aesthetics of the ballroom, there’s nothing to dislike about this place. The crowd got surprisingly wild for a Monday night, but when you’ve got an incredible act like Dr. Dog on the bill the date is really irrelevant…it’s gonna be a party either way. Throwing in old favorites and plenty of gems from their latest album Be The Void, Dr. Dog had a little bit of something for everyone on Monday night.
Cotton Jones was the opening act, and while the band put on a great performance they suffered from a heart breaking condition that has been sweeping the nation for decades, OBS, or Opening Band Syndrome. When you’ve got an act like Dr. Dog headlining it takes a lot to maintain the attention of a packed crowd, an opening act has to be bursting with energy to become a memorable part of the evening when you’re opening for a powerhouse. While Cotton Jones’ folk pop tunes from Maryland blend rustic goodness with vivid lyricism, they lacked the presence needed to be anything other than an opening act. In any other setting their charm may have shone through brighter, with a one man brass section playing tuba and trombone, the band certainly had the potential to be an incredible opener. However, once Dr. Dog took the stage Cotton Jones’ laid back folk songs took a backseat to the raucous live act.
Allow me to preface this by saying I’ve already had a failed attempt at seeing Dr. Dog this year when I was stuck in a traffic jam on I-40 on my way to see the band at Music on the Mountaintop back in August, so my excitement for this show was through the roof. Haw River was the PERFECT venue for this band, with fantastic acoustics and a wide open room the ballroom perfectly housed the heart warming sounds of Dr. Dog. From open to close, Dr. Dog lead the crowd in a joyous singalong with a fantastic career spanning set. While the bulk of the set came from Be The Void, with tracks like “How Long Must I Wait”, “Lonesome”, and “That Old Black Hole” standing out amongst the crowd, the band scattered in personal favorites from Fate and Shame, Shame like "The Breeze", “Shadow People”, and set closer, “Jackie Wants A Black Eye”.
The band’s harmonies lived up to all of the high expectations I’d set for them, lead vocalists Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken put on dazzling performances filled with passion and energy. While there wasn’t much stage banter, the band did plenty of interacting with the crowd, like Leaman grabbing a camera bag from the front of the stage and using their cell phone to make a phone call mid-song. The band’s lyrical depth can easily define their music in the studio, but their live performance breathes vivacity into otherwise low-key songs. Dr. Dog is a band like no other, they perfectly blend elements of indie rock with psychedelic folk to make for an array of beautiful textures that are perfectly suited for their devastatingly brilliant lyrics.