Not too many people remember That Dog (often stylized as ‘that dog,’ but I’ll refrain for the sake of readability). Having signed to DGC in the ’90s, they were one of numerous bands that emerged out of the alternative rock boom that never managed to push the sales that a major label contract would expect. Having formal connections to Beck, Weezer and some “Saturday Night Live” cast members, they were a band more known for being friends with famous people, rather than being famous themselves. While hanging out on the outskirts of mainstream success, the band faded into obscurity after their 1997 breakup, their biggest exposure being the placement of the song “Grunge Couple” on the 1994 compilation, “DGC Rarities Vol. 1.”
That song opened the set for both shows That Dog played at Music Hall of Williamsburg Thursday and Friday night this past week, the band’s first NY gigs in well over a decade. Previously reuniting last August for a few gigs in their home state of California, That Dog ventured outward for the first time since reuniting for a welcomed pair of shows in New York, the city where bassist Rachel Haden and violinist sister Rachel were born. The band ran through a cross-section of their back catalog, a hearty collection of great ’90s power pop. That Dog’s records may have never rose beyond a vague awareness in MTV’s buzz bin, but the songs stuck with anyone who was lucky enough to hear them at the time.
Standing at stage right was Rachel Haden, wearing all black and a pair of glasses. Her tight basslines and sense of humor were a fixture throughout the show. Center stage was singer and guitarist Anna Waronker, whose reverse-strung guitar had a “Ladies” room sticker underneath its bridge. Anna’s lyrics, often about troubles with boys, were perfect fodder for troubled high-schoolers in the 1990s, many of which were there at the show, reliving their past. To her left was Petra Haden. Adorn in a black dress, she completed the 3-part harmony trifecta, frequently reaching for her violin, a signature element to both her work in That Dog and in the Matt Sharp-led band The Rentals, who she also was a member of. Drummer Tony Maxwell was on point during the whole show, white jumpsuit much like the one often worn by Pete Townshend during the Who’s “Tommy” days. At the Friday night show, Maxwell introduced the other three with kitschy fake names. Anna corrected, “No, we’re just That Dog,” which caused the audience to burst open with applause, probably still in amazement those words were being said again.
The four-piece, occasionally joined by a second guitarist, played like no time had passed at all, each song ripping forth with the same energy and charisma from their glory days. Songs like “He’s Kissing Christian,” “Never Say Never” and “Ms. Wrong” were played with a clarity and excitement as if they were being performed by a new band excited to have just penned some sure-to-be hits. Other fan favorites like “Long Island,” “Lip Gloss” and “Silently” likewise had a rapturous feel.
The most noticeable aspect of the show was the pleasure the band themselves got from simply playing together again. All were laughing and joking throughout the show, with Rachel mentioning early on that she was on her period, to which the other members made jabs about throughout the rest of the night. The audience was also filled with giddy fans knowing they were in on something exclusive. The band gave those die-hards a special treat on Friday with a rarity in the encore. Waronker asked the crowd, “Hey does anyone have any of our rare Japanese CDs?” to which one fan yelled “Fuck you!” After Waronker quickly returned the outburst, the band launched into the bonus track from “Retreat From the Sun,” which may have been the absolute standout of the whole evening.
While playing a handful of shows may not increase the awareness of That Dog much higher, the fact that the band seemed to not care about popularity at all made the performances that much better. It was simply four friends getting together to play a show, and the casualness of that made for a relaxed and most of all fun time. Fans yelled out requests for the band to play more concerts in the future to which Anna hinted at the possibility of. It would be interesting to see how many That Dog fans exist out there, but the prospect of doing more shows may stretch the foundation thin. For now though at least, everyone who came out to see them can most definitely agree that the That Dog reunion is a glowing success.
Check out a video of “He’s Kissing Christian” from Thursday night’s show which features a little moon walking by the multi-talented Petra Haden. Also check out a classic clip from circa 1995 of the band hanging out with Pat Smear on MTV.
the dog. — “He’s Kissing Christian”