It’s very easy to view reunion shows through cynical eyes, particularly those of bands who came of age in the Nineties. Ever since the Pixies got back together at Coachella 2004 and became millionaires many times thanks to extended tours catering to their aging Generation X fanbase, virtually every band of consequence from the Buzz Bin era has reunited, most of them with visions of dollar signs dancing through their heads. However, that most certainly was not the case last night in Williamsburg when one of the the alternative rock era’s most criminally underrated punky power pop outfits, that dog., played their first East Coast gig since 1997. The band dissolved after a difficult tour in support of their 1997 album Retreat From The Sun (a stone classic, if we do say so ourselves), but got back together for a handful of shows on their native West Coast last summer. They didn’t do it to inflate their respective bank accounts, but rather as a means to blow the dust off their revered three album catalog and play their material for an adoring audience, a good chunk of whom never had the fortune to see them pre-breakup.
that dog. doesn’t get much credit from the music critic community for being a particularly influential band, but looking back on their work with the benefit of hindsight, their three LPs — 1993’s That Dog, 1995’s Totally Crushed Out and 1997’s Retreat From The Sun — showcase some of the tightest hooks and catchiest riffs of that era. The soaring, three part harmonies of lead singer/guitarist Anna Waronker, violinist Petra Haden and bassist Rachel Haden were the perfect way to accentuate the band’s female-centric lyrical content, most of which centered around boys (finding them, dealing with them, losing them). Because the band shared a label (Geffen) with some of the most influential alternative acts of that era —Nirvana, Beck, Hole, Weezer, and Counting Crows, to name but a few— it’s easy to understand why they never quite got the spotlight pointed their way, but you wouldn’t know that judging by the level of devotion the fans at the Music Hall of Williamsburg showed the group last night.
After opening act Fred Armisen got the people going, that dog. came on stage a little after 10 p.m. and launched into “Grunge Couple”, a B-side that appeared on one of the most loved compilation albums of the late nineties (DGC Rarities Vol. 1). The crowd, mostly made up of thirty- to fortysomethings, was in the proverbial palm of that dog.’s hand (paw?) from the outset, and remained particularly energetic and appreciative throughout the evening. The band clearly fed off the positive vibes coming from the audience, tearing into their noisier numbers (“Old Timer”, “Zodiac”) with the same level of aplomb as their power poppier tracks (“Retreat From The Sun”, “Never Say Never”).
As the band ripped through their catalog, both the band and the audience seemed blissfully and willingly transported back to the Bill Clinton era, a time when people tended to feel more optimistically about their lives and futures than they do these days. The spell was broken near the end of the night when lead singer Anna Waronker noticed that her husband, Redd Kross member Steve McDonald, was holding the couple’s toddler-aged son up in the air where he could get a good look at his mom, the rock star, on stage. Anna’s eyes stayed locked with her son’s as she blasted through a series of power chords, which couldn’t help but make the audience members cognizant of the whole circle of life and how much everyone’s lives have changed since 1997. In that moment, one of the more honest and moving moments we can remember in our concertgoing lives, you realized that the that dog. reunion bore no traces of greedy cynicism whatsoever. Instead, you could tell that the whole reunion thing was, to them, solely a reason for a group of old friends and former bandmates to reconnect with each other on a personal level. As the evening came to a close and people spilled out onto the streets, it was plainly evident that the fervent audience felt fortunate just to have been a part of it.
“Grunge Couple” / “Old Timer” / “Ms. Wrong” / “Silently” / “Being With You” / “Lip Gloss” / “In The Back Of My Mind” / “She Looks At Me” / “Zodiac” / “Punk Rock Girl” / “Long Island” / “Retreat From The Sun” / “Did You Ever” / “Gagged And Tied” / “Annie” / “He’s Kissing Christian” / “Angel”
Encore: “Never Say Never” / “Minneapolis” / “Michael Jordan” / “Hawthorne” / “This Boy”
that dog. is playing another show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight, Friday, May 25. As of this printing, tickets are still available!