San Francisco Bathhouse
January 7 | Reviewed by James Robinson

WATCHING a band on the ascendance is a curious thing. When you’re pulled in by a band with only an album or two under their belt, you’re riding a fine line. There’s not the cache of favourites to draw on; never more than at the start of a career does a band need a shit-hot live show. There’s no free pass, no store of crowd sentiment for a band they’ve been following for a while.

I guess the Dodos figured this out – their tour schedule is a feat of endurance, and they are about as tight as you’d expect for a band that have been playing twenty shows a month for about a year. Last year’s Visiter was a fantastic record – (in my opinion) a couple of notches above the so-called-album-of-the-year from the Fleet Foxes. But while the Fleet Foxes packed out San Francisco to the rafters a few nights previous, the Dodos played a blistering set to a half-full bar. The gods of hype are mysterious I guess. But it sure was nice to have some room to move at a rock show for a change.

The Ruby Suns have been with Dodos for much of their year long touring adventure, and it was nice to see the Dodos join them on stage at various points. The enthusiastic show of camaraderie was a subtle nod at how respected the Ruby Suns have become in indie-music circles across the globe. Of course many will remember them back from the days when they were Ryan McPhun & the Ruby Suns, and their sound has had a pretty complete refit as well – shifting out from the slightly twee to the essentially afro-beat. (I spent over a year out of the country recently, and this change seemed to have passed me by.) The Ruby Suns were passionate and professional performers; in saying that, I had seen them in late 2006, and found myself slightly cynical as to how genuine such a complete sonic refit could be.

There seemed a refreshing lack of pomp and fan-fare when the Dodos took the stage. Songwriter and guitarist Meric Long is a fresh faced and enthusiastic performer, he simply got down to it with a smile on his face. No hokey banter, no persona. Alongside drummer Logan Kroeber, and multi-instrumentalist Joe Haener they made a pretty relatable trio – completely devoid of pretense. You can call this a tangent, but it is nice to get a dose of rock‘n’roll without the typical shades of arrogance.

It was a standard set of songs from a band with only one widely known record – there were some off Beware of the Maniacs, (2006) and a new song or two, but they stuck for two-thirds of the show or so to Visiter. Why not? ‘Fools’, ‘Joe's Waltz’, ‘Red and Purple’ and ‘Paint the Rust’ are terrific songs that play even better live than you'd expect. The Dodos work well with their own songs – the dynamic between the layers of the guitar and minimalist drumming is combined with a frenzied, manic energy. Meric Long is a truely fantastic guitarist, much of the joy in the shifts in the songs are provided in the way he mixes ornate finger picking and furious strumming seamlessly.

‘Jodi’ and ‘Winter’ both built to crashing conclusions. For a band frequently lumped into the folk basket, there was a surprising heaviness to it. But the Dodos do hide a slightly harder edge under the gorgeous melodies. There was something slight lost in the translation – the delicate secondary instrumentation from the record was slightly drowned out, some of the intricacy of the songs on record was swamped. But the energy, the quality of performance and the quality of songs more than made up for this.

May the world eventually turn to the Dodos. Or, if not, may they forever remain as enthusiastic in their own work and performance as they are now.