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Live Review and Photos: The Dodos, April 8, 2011, El Rey – Los Angeles, CA


Since the release of Time To Die, the third album from San Francisco duo The Dodos, I have seen the group five times. Five times. A free show at the Getty, as opener for The New Pornographers, at a small club gig between albums, at SXSW and on Friday night, as legitimate headliners in a good-sized room in West Los Angeles. Beyond that, I have also had multiple conversations with songwriter Meric Long and have followed them as closely as I can claim for any band. With this in mind, two thoughts were going through my head as I entered the venue for the scheduled 75-minute set. I wondered what The Dodos could show me that I haven’t seen before. I also realized that if a 33 1/3 book was ever requested to cover one of The Dodos albums, I would probably be the best man for the job.

The night began with a different duo (though the peppy Reading Rainbow don’t grow in numbers when they go on tour, as The Dodos do), who fed into the youthful spirit that came as naturally to the audience as their curfew comes in the PM of every evening. But where the music of the power-pop couple may seem a little simple, its inoffensive nature can’t discount the fact that it is plain fun. There is always room in my heart for an eager to please melody machine and Reading Rainbow easily filled that void for a half hour. But I, like most in attendance, couldn’t really be distracted too far from the headliner who waited in the wings.

Now, The Dodos came into this tour, their first push for their recently released fourth album No Color, at an interesting place for the band. The pair of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber have indicated that they were less than pleased with their last outing, and made changes across the board to correct any missteps they feel they may have taken. One of these was the return to producer John Askew, another was to return to recording as a duo by parting ways with vibraphonist Keaton Snyder. But the recording turned out to be anything but the stripped-down affair, return to roots affair. Long seemed to peel everything away, only to then pile on as many sounds and textures as he could. He also started playing electric guitar. The result is an album that I’m pretty sure everyone is enjoying more and more as they listen to it, and an album that I most appreciate after seeing the songs live.

This opinion was guided by the fact that The Dodos leaned heavily on No Color in the setlist. The opening series of “Good,” “Black Night,” and “When Will You Go,” came out focused and confident, as if the band believed in their new material so much that they didn’t feel the need to win over the crowd with some of their old classics. And this assessment was pretty right-on. The adoring crowd never felt too demanding, shouting out occasional requests but seeming satisfied for every song The Dodos delivered for them. And they were rewarded for their patience, with an end to the set that went to the band’s classic album, Visiter, for three of the final four songs.

Most notable about the performance was how the band has adapted, especially considering they are named after a species that failed to do so. Going electric for the whole show, the setlist seems to have been formed to accommodate this, rather than making their traditional crowd pleasers (“God,” “Red and Purple,” “Fables,” “Jodi,” “Joe’s Waltz”) that had previously been set staples fit their new sound. Rather, The Dodos delivered “Winter” and easily the set highlight, “The Season.” On the latter, it was clear that Long had grown more than comfortable with his new instrument, he had started to make it his own, looping multiple parts together and ending in an extended jam that saw Meric and Logan speeding up and challenging each other until all that was left was pure exhilaration.

Beyond that, and this might sound silly, but the band seemed noticeably happy. There were frequent shared smiles and a mid-set, dorky introduction to touring guitarist Chris that culminated in a guitar-off with Long, featuring Soundgarden’s classic (?) “Spoonman.” Rest assured, both musicians can play the “Spoonman” riff competently. This joy came through on the new tracks (another combo of “Don’t Stop” and “Sleep” also felt fiery and inspired) and was eventually shared with the crowd on closer “Fools.” Despite the determination on the band’s part to stick to their guns and show-off their new musical direction — a genuine rock show — ending with “Fools” proved that The Dodos are very aware that live performance is a give and take. Sure, there was nothing about the rest of the set that felt insufferable, in fact it was quite excellent, but there were people in the audience that wanted to hear “Fools,” that maybe had never seen the band before, and would have left disappointed if all their old-school favorite Dodos’ tracks went unplayed. Instead, they left the building giddy, on a high from witnessing a concise and controlled set from a band whose reinvention is playing to their strengths.

Setlist:

Good
Black Night
When Will You Go
Longform
Don’t Try And Hide It
All Night
Don’t Stop
Sleep
Winter
The Season

Going Under
Fools


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