By James Currie
This review has been a long time coming. The first time (and only time before today) I saw Dogstar was in 1999 at Chicago’s Park West. It was a seemingly unannounced show as only those in the know, knew. Or maybe it was a radio station event, but no matter, it was sold out as well. The band was still fairly new in their years, officially only having one album out a few years earlier with 1996 release of, “Our Little Visionary” and an EP. The show was a pre release party and debut of their 2000 release, “Happy Ending”. The later of which most of the set consisted as well as a cover of Pink Floyd’s, “Wish You Were Here”. This show was pure hype on seeing Keanu Reeves as the band hadn’t reached the musical accolades they would eventually grow into. The band was fairly tight and sounded good, but with all the chanting of “We love you Keanu” between songs by 20 somethings, it somehow lessened the performance as a whole.
Last night, things were different. For the most part.
The three piece alt rock band Dogstar returned after 23 years away and played a sold out show last night at Thalia Hall. This time around with another album under their belt “Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees” (2023), several previous years of touring and growing profusely as musicians. The similarities being Keanu Reeve’s ever growing superstardom (and hair) and the former 20 something girls returning as middle aged women (along with a couple men) still shouting, “We love you Keanu” between songs.
The opening act for this tour was an Indie Surf Garage band from Moreno Valley California, Archer Oh. Their youthful power pop rock energized the crowd nicely and was well received. They banged through a half a dozen songs prepping the house for the main attraction.
Dogstar took the stage early and jammed through 17 tracks in a little over an hour. Most songs being radio friendly alternative pop rock tracks lasting on average three and a half minutes long.
The set consisted mainly of the new album with a few even newer tracks not yet released. As a matter of fact, it was every track from the new release, “Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees”. This would have been billed as a reunion show playing “Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees” in its entirety if it were a Riot Fest gig.
The lights dim, Keanu thumps his blue sunburst Fender Precision Jazz bass a couple times seemingly to signal to the band, lets rock. Kicking off the night was the opening track off their latest LP, “Blonde”. This poppy song is one of my favorites off the new album. The snappy beat, punchy bass lines and Bret’s positive vibe lyrics set the bar for the night. Following this, we heard the first half of the new record including “Lust”, “How The Story Ends”, “Lily”, “Glimmer”, “Dillon Street” (also the name of their newly formed label and Rob ripped through a harmonica solo while playing drums for it), “Sleep” and “Flowers” before taking a break from the new record, to play a new track not yet released called, “Math”.
“Math” was debuted in Japan earlier this year and is one of the best new songs of Dogstar 2023. Bret’s lyrics and guitar playing (with an awesome lead) really made this one stand out. Keanu’s bass lines on another level almost driving the whole track. Robert’s no slouch on this either. Pounding through some heavy hits making this one of their rockinest tracks.
From there they return to the new album and jump back into “Overhang” and “Upside” before taking the encore break.
The house was still pretty stoked and demanded the band come back with chants and calls welcoming them back. On their return we heard another new track, “Lava Lamp”. Yes, another new song, not on the new album. Sounds like these guys’ creative juices are just over flowing this year. Leaving us to wonder, another new album in 2024? This drudging song a little darker and slower than most Dogstar tracks. Bret commenting on if he even played it right. This one was another well received track and one I’m looking forward to having soon in my playlist.
Ending the night was a song called, “Jackbox”. A rager for a Dogstar song. Bret rips a lead on his dark red Gibson for this one. High tempo, quick in your face power pop song that will linger in your head for days.
All and all a solid set from the band. It was great to see and hear them playing together again. You can see they truly love doing this. It’s not a publicity stunt or marketing ploy for a movie. They are talented musician in their own right. A lifelong love of music. You can tell the movie stuff honestly just gets in their way as they shrug off the Keanu chants. Keanu still keeping true to playing the brooding, silent bass player in a band never takes the mic once or even addresses the audience. This rock show is led by front man, Bret Domrose and powered behind with Rob’s hits and kicks (and occasional backing vocals and harmonica). No egos here.
I only wish we could have heard some of the early stuff. Any of it really. It was actually shocking not to hear anything. It would have made the set a little longer and really pulled the true fans out of the woodwork. Strange this didn’t happen. Maybe they lost the rights to the early releases? They did make mention on stage they are in the processes of re-releasing those so maybe next year we’ll get something off “Our Little Visionary”, “Quattro Formaggi” or “Happy Endings”? To hear the track “Our Little Visionary” live with those rolling bass lines would really be tops. Even to hear their cover of The Carpenters, “Superstar”. I feel like this was a missed connection to the old fan base.
I’m glad for the most part people aren’t showing up for a Keanu Reeves solo, one man band in mind. They all genuinely rocked to the beat. Even sang along to a couple songs. Yes, there will always be the gawkers and fanboys n’ girls in whimsical Bill and Ted shirts, but for those who open their mind, a banging treat is in store.
For more on Dogstar, click here
For photos from the show, click here