Can Toad swallow The Doctors Fox? Band may be big draw at small club
Toad had better brace itself.
The Doctors Fox plays Wednesday at the tiny Porter Square bar and music venue — so small its stage often doesn’t fit whole bands — and it has been packing larger houses lately.
Even the band may not know what it’s in for. All bassist and singer David Ladon was thinking Monday night was how happy The Doctors Fox members were to finally be booked at Toad. But he also reported pulling 130 people for a CD release party Oct. 24 at Church in Boston despite pouring rain, and a line out the door at a recent show at The Cantab Lounge in Cambridge.
Which leads to the next reason Toad may want to brace itself: The club consists mainly of a bar, a row of booths and an aisle, and The Doctors Fox is an extremely danceable band. Its eccentric, eclectic, somewhat rootsy funk kept people dancing late into the 7th Night party Thursday at Cambridge’s All Asia, and Ladon says that was no fluke. The experience was the same at what he thinks of as the band’s best shows, at the Cantab.
“That was just a really great crowd,” Ladon said, but, modesty aside, the band surely something to do with it.
Its origins can be traced back to the University of Rochester, N.Y., in 2003, where Ladon and guitarist and singer Jon Dashkoff met and formed the band More Cowbell. (“We picked the name before it became a huge craze,” Ladon said, referring to the “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which Christopher Walken keeps demanding “more cowbell” from a sweaty Will Ferrell during a “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” recording session. The name won More Cowbell an interview in The Boston Globe and a mention in Wired.) For a while, they were happy being a jam band with funk and rhythm and blues elements.
But even as Ladon took music theory courses, got turned on to an encyclopedia full of new music and became a prolific writer of songs, members’ need to study prevented much of that fresh knowledge from being applied; the band boiled down its repertoire to the same dozen songs. “I stepped out of the jam band scene, but didn’t have the band to play it with,” he said.
That changed after graduation, when Ladon and Dashkoff arrived in Boston for a reunion with violinist Ryan Aylward, a Rochester friend getting a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Orchestrating with a violin changed everything again,” Ladon said. The final revolution was when the band found drummer Josh Kiggans through Craigslist. Kiggans, with a degree in jazz from the University of Massachusetts, “is a different drummer than we’ve ever played with and the best drummer I’ve ever played with,” Ladon said. “He’s been playing since he was 18 months.”
Musically and thematically restless, the band has evolved an idiosyncratic style that starts with frequent dual male vocals, includes the occasional burst of klezmer and culminates in violin work that often replaces the kind of work a guitarist would be used to doing — intense leadwork and solos over sparkly picking and strumming base. Aylward can also draw the violin back in the mix but keep it distinct even during the intense, funk guitar assault of the band’s “Sacha.”
Critical response has been good.
Wildy’s World, an Amherst, N.Y.-based blog, called “Plural Non-Possessive,” the band’s album, a “delirious brand of musical magic,” and twogroove.com said the “talent in the songwriting, arrangement and performance is apparent in every track.” Somerville’s Miriam Lamey, who reviews online and for The Boston Phoenix and spin.com, said “each fiddle progression, drum beat and, yes, weird Doors-like swoony sound is well-placed and thoughtful.”
Ladon’s songs are eclectic as well. At the 7th Night party, the band catered to an audience attuned to social-justice issues with overtly political tunes such as “Whole Foods” and banter about who fits the description of “The Man.” (Sallie Mae? Lieberman? Obama?) “But we don’t think of ourselves as a political band,” he said.
“There’s politics and war and there are issues like consumption, and those are all a part of life like sinus infections and getting your heart broken, and we have songs about all those sorts of things,” he said. “One of the things I feel we do well is that what we choose to talk about is different [than many bands]. We can find meaning in different things, on serious topics as well as funny topics.”
“My writing is a little ADD,” Ladon said.
And, yes, the band does have a song about sinus infection, as well as an “Autobiography of a Beached Whale” and three and a half minutes on the ubiquity of the name “Sarah.”
It also has a benign political bent toward collaboration with other bands, on the stage and in working toward “economic cooperation” that saves profits for bands instead of ceding them automatically to managers and labels. Ladon and Kiggans manage The Doctors Fox, booking shows and seeing to details such as album art, and they support efforts such as indieonthemove.com that provide tools bands can use to stay self-sufficient.
The approach is working for The Doctors Fox, Ladon said — despite qualms about whether the its sound really fits comfortably in the local music scene. The band is booking more shows in bigger venues and drawing a following even as its widens its reach, now performing regularly in Lowell and Worcester and heading to New Jersey later this winter.
Like many bands, The Doctors Fox has bigger dreams than that.
But for now, Toad still has a chance to fit the band, its dreams and its audience inside.