We’ve seen it before: the odds-and-ends pairing of two very opposite bands into one concert. It’s a tactful advertisement; one band is the other’s bait for new fans, and vice versa. On this particular occasion, there was the lazy Sunday drive hymns of two-times-the-couple group Dog Day matched with the chaotic, ironic juxtapositions of Burning Hell, a ten-piece cross-country collective of the gypsy clan. Sometimes the aforementioned formula tries and fails. This time, it didn’t.
Dog Day emerged onto the Lee’s Palace stage and nobody even seemed to notice until the starting notes. This isn’t a bad thing; the quartet — Seth Smith, KC Spidle, Crystal Thili and Nancy Urich — seem to believe in the ethic of self-consciousness. Throughout their entire set they barely moved from their positions and rarely cracked a smile. They were focused. This didn’t trip them up, in fact it only made them stronger.
Vamping up their latest album, Concentration, could have been difficult in concert. The album is more produced and upbeat than their previous, Night Group, but that’s no reason to give it a bad name. Dog Day’s performance had that raw actual meaning of what concentration is. Each one appeared in some sort of trance. Smith, whose vocals are victorious because it’s rare to sing in a conversational-type voice without going sour, locked his eyes to the front row. Only on a couple occasions did he pull away to face Ulrich, whose voice is a chirp and cheep away from the quiet birdsong you hear outside your window in the morning. Thili may be the most curious of them all: when not taking pictures of the crowd and her band mates, she enveloped herself in her keyboard. Spindle was hidden in the classic Lee’s dark drum pit, but he more than managed to make his band’s beats heard.
Dog Day awarded their doting audience of head nodders many of the Concentration favourites such as “Happiness,” “Neighbor,” “Wait It Out,” “Saturday Night,” “You Won’t See Me On Sunday” and adding a random tune, “Fountains,” by ’80s/’90s group the Nils.
While Dog Day is the night that brings you to dreamland, Burning Hell was the sudden awakening of an early rise, complete with songs about rabbis and, unrelated, German war conferences. Their performance was like remembering the kind of imagination you had when you were a kid, yet all the while singing “take off your pants and dance!” Their appearance might fool you into thinking they’re only about a hilarious sarcastic style, but the spot-on coordination between ten people who don’t even live in the same city plus the ridiculous lyrics (another phrase: “I sat down and watched a squirrel getting hit by a car”) is remarkable. It got Brendan Canning’s toes tapping in the crowd as well as some eager swing dancers.
Overall, these bands show it takes just one special hook, that first impression, to really get in touch with a crowd, whether you lull them into a pleasant trance or you wake them up by screaming about rabbis.