LUCIEN’S NOTE: I wrote this article but it was never published. Even so, it’s one of the most fun I’ve had writing an article and I thought it was time to actually give it to people to read.
I ran into Garth Hudson at the Dr. Dog show. I didn’t recognize him at first but I caught a glimpse of his thick beard before the house lights dimmed. Could it be? I glanced at him a few songs later to inspect. His eyes were closed as he was bobbing along to “Too Weak To Ramble.” Those cherubian cheeks. That wide smile. That’s Garth.
Hudson, of course, is the 76-year old music veteran best known for his days on keyboard and organ with The Band. You know, “take a load off Fanny.” The Last Waltz. Big Pink.
I pushed my way through the college-aged, toque-clad, audience and went up to the man. I tapped him on the shoulders. Garth? Garth Hudson? What the hell? What are you doing here? He was on his way to some sorority party in Allston but got distracted by the shining lights of Kenmore Square and the noise emanating from House of Blues Boston. Live music, he explained, is better than jungle juice.
“What do you think of these guys? “ I asked. I made sure to sound more masculine then I actually am and stressed the non-existent gravel in my voice. When you’re hanging out with rock royalty, you got to act cool.
“They’re doing what we did,” answered Hudson. Did that mean he didn’t find Dr. Dog original? Did he not enjoy the show? “I like what we did,” he laughed. “Not many people making that kind of music anymore…I like these guys.”
I smiled. I wanted to ask him more. I wanted to ask about the early days. About Levon and The Hawks. About backing Dylan. About the Catskills. I didn’t though. You know why? Because Dr. Dog was killing it.
I didn’t meet Garth Hudson. He wasn’t at the show. None of this was true.
Even so, Hudson’s presence emanated from the organ that night. His orchestral brilliance. His soul. His passion. His pain. It was all there.
Dr. Dog doesn’t simply do what The Band did. They don’t sound just like The Beatles. They don’t Xerox their heroes without innovating themselves. Yes, blues, soul and classic rock are the backbone to many Dr. Dog songs but they make it their own. Their own eccentricities, from the split vocal duties to their psychedelic sound effects, power their unique sound.
This was the third time I’ve seen Dr. Dog and it was the most they’ve strayed from their record. The arrangements were fresh and captivating. I didn’t instantly recognize every song as they played around with their standards.
Their recent hit, “Lonesome” gained an electronic spine while others earned jammed-out intros. The intimate “Too Weak To Ramble,” became a full-bodied force topped with rich organ that most embodied Hudson and the bands of yore.
It’s easy to get concert fatigue after watching a band more than a couple of times so it was refreshing to see eight-year old songs sound different show after show. How many transformations has “Oh No” gone through? Who knows…but keep them coming.
From old numbers to new, they all gained soul. The 2013 incarnation of Dr. Dog is a soulful group — musically brilliant and dripping with passion and childlike wonder. Singer/bassist Toby Leaman showed that most, strutting around stage with more flirt than I’ve ever seen from him. Toying with the audience. Having fun.
Concerts aren’t important on a-song-by-song basis. How songs sound individually doesn’t matter. They didn’t play that song you like? Tough luck. It doesn’t sound like the record? Go home and listen to that then. Concerts work on a higher level. It’s about the story arc. The experience. Not wanting to go home. Staying up past your bedtime. Never growing up. At that moment the band on stage is the most important thing in the world and nothing else matters — nothing but the music.
There isn’t one moment that I can rate higher than the rest. No song highlight that I’ll brag to my friends more than any other. Only a captivating performance that never lost its grip. A show that raised my respect for a band that I already enjoy greatly. A concert that I never wanted to leave and that won’t leave me yet.
The verdict. Go see Dr. Dog. If you run into Garth Hudson, tell him I said hello.