Dr. Dog considers its 'Critical Equation'

From Staff Reports
Black Mountain News | USA TODAY NETWORK
When Dr. Dog finally reunited to begin work on "Critical Equation," it did so with a fresh perspective.

“I feel like I’m in a totally new band right now,” says Dr. Dog guitarist/singer Scott McMicken. It’s a bold declaration considering he’s been co-fronting the beloved indie outfit for a decade and a half. But it cuts straight to the heart of the intense and transformative experience behind the group’s new album, “Critical Equation.”

The band will play songs from that album when it performs at Pisgah Brewing Co. on Saturday, May 19. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $25 advance, $30 door. Opening is The Dead Tongues.

Dr. Dog’s appearance is part of its “Critical Equation” tour. The path to the album by the same name was an unusual one for the Philadelphia five-piece, and it stretches all the way back to 2014, when the band completed work on an album titled “Abandoned Mansion.”

Instead of releasing the record the following year as planned, the band temporarily shelved it in favor of an opportunity to partner with the celebrated Pig Iron Theatre Company on a reimagining of “The Psychedelic Swamp,” a long lost McMicken-Toby Leaman collaboration that actually predated Dr. Dog’s debut album. The resulting theatrical/concert performance premiered at the Philly Fringe Festival, and the accompanying LP earned good reviews, with National Public Radio hailing it as “a concept album that wanders and sprawls to absorbing effect” and Under The Radar lauding it for its “unmistakably sublime harmonies.”

Despite representing something of a Rosetta Stone for Dr. Dog, “The Psychedelic Swamp” marked a major departure, with elaborate production and experimental arrangements that broke from the simpler, more emotionally direct studio sound they’d been gravitating towards over the years. Rather than the start of a new chapter, “The Psychedelic Swamp” seemed to symbolize the closing of a circle, which made it an ideal catalyst for some serious soul searching.

Dr. Dog had achieved remarkable success — multiple Top 50 albums; late night television performances; critical acclaim everywhere from The New York Times to Rolling Stone; massive festival appearances around the world; major tours with the likes of My Morning Jacket, M Ward, and The Lumineers; countless sold-out headline shows. But none of it mattered if Dr. Dog couldn’t answer that nagging question: what do we really want?

When the band finally reunited to begin work on "Critical Equation," it did so with a fresh perspective. The time apart had ironically brought them closer together, helping them learn to communicate in more honest and open ways. As they worked through the challenges and growing pains inherent in rewiring the foundation of any relationship, they found themselves more excited and inspired than ever before.