The Dodos, Hoxton Bar & Grill, London
Wednesday 04 June 2008
On paper "psych-pop folktronica", as The Dodos' music has been labelled, isn't a genre all that easy to call to mind. It seems like a made-up mélange of words – obscure yet oddly exact in a manner beloved of more snobbish music fans. But in front of a crowd packed into a small east London venue, it makes perfect sense.
The band's opener begins with front man Meric Long picking out a country blues tune on an acoustic guitar. It starts slow and ends fast with drummer Logan Kroeber joining with a pounding beat; the pair then bellow a chorus together. The song breaks down briefly and is taken up again with more guitar picking by Long only to return to a cacophonous, joyous explosion of noise.
Many of the songs by the San Francisco-based duo follow this template. Long sings and alternates between guitar picking and furious strumming. Kroeber adds backing vocals and powerful drumming. They are abetted by Joe Haener from Oakland band Gris Gris, who plays a xylophone and toy piano, and bangs on a metal bin.
The three are fantastic players, expertly holding their disparate music together. On one song Long begins by playing a trombone – the tune like an off-kilter version of "Dirty Old Town" – he then returns to playing the guitar while the trombone sound continues in an electronic loop.
A minor drawback is Long's vocals. In deep tones, his voice lands somewhere between Morrissey and Win Butler from Arcade Fire. This is no bad thing and, when he hits his stride, it sounds great. Frequently, however, the vocals are very low in the mix, with almost all the lyrics virtually indecipherable.
Midway through the show, Long introduces a few numbers from their new album, Visiter, which is released on 14 July. It was written and recorded last year while the band were on the road with their debut album, Beware of the Maniacs. However, only the most devoted of listener would hear a huge difference between the two.
All this should not detract from what is a wonderful performance. While they may not do much in the way of showmanship – the singer remains sitting throughout – they really do know how to play. It makes one think of old blues men and early rockers sitting around, kicking up a storm and having a blast.
With a name such as theirs, some clichéd phrases naturally spring forth. So perhaps it is simplest to say that when The Dodos are in full, stomping flow, with the audience clapping along and hollering their approval, they seem very much alive.
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