FMQB & 97.3 KBCO Present
Sold Out: BRANDI CARLILE + DR. DOG + NATALIE PRASS
Thu Aug 9
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:30 pm
This event is 21 and over
Tickets for Brandi Carlile, Dr. Dog & Thad Cockrell are sold out. CLICK HERE for the Lyte Official Ticket Exchange where fans can request or return tickets to sold out shows.
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Brandi Carlile is an American singer and songwriter. Carlile's music can been categorized in several genres, including pop, rock, alternative country, or folk.
“We’d been touring and making records for our entire adult lives, and I think we just needed to take a step back,” reflects bassist/singer Toby Leaman, who splits fronting and songwriting duties with McMicken. “It was important for all of us to figure out if we were actually doing what we wanted to be doing, or if we were just letting momentum carry us down this path we’d always been on.”
The path to ‘Critical Equation’ was an unusual one for the Philadelphia five-piece (McMicken, Leaman, guitarist Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller, and drummer Eric Slick), and it stretches all the way back to 2014, when the band completed work on an album titled ‘Abandoned Mansion.’ Instead of releasing the record the following year as planned, they temporarily shelved it in favor of an opportunity to partner with the celebrated Pig Iron Theatre Company on a reimagining of ‘The Psychedelic Swamp,’ a long lost McMicken-Leaman collaboration that actually predated Dr. Dog’s debut album. The resulting theatrical/concert performance premiered at the Philly Fringe Festival, and the accompanying LP earned rave reviews, with NPR hailing it as “a concept album that wanders and sprawls to absorbing effect” and Under The Radar swooning for its “unmistakably sublime harmonies.” Despite representing something of a Rosetta Stone for Dr. Dog, the album also marked a major departure, with elaborate production and experimental arrangements that broke from the simpler, more emotionally direct studio sound they’d been gravitating towards over the years. Rather than the start of a new chapter, ‘The Psychedelic Swamp’ seemed to symbolize the closing of a circle, which made it an ideal catalyst for some serious soul searching.
“We were all really satisfied to close 14 years of history by finally revisiting ‘The Psychedelic Swamp’ and giving it our full attention,” says McMicken, “but I think stepping out of our natural evolution definitely taxed us. We decided we should put ‘Abandoned Mansion’ out and just go our separate ways for six or seven months.”
They released the album with little fanfare, posting it to Bandcamp as a benefit for the Southern Poverty Law Center and walking away without any touring or press for a much–needed break. That time apart proved to be invaluable, as it offered each bandmember the opportunity to reflect and reevaluate, to challenge and confront their conceptions of the group and its possibilities, to ask the hard questions of themselves and each other. They’d achieved remarkable success—multiple Top 50 albums; television performances on Letterman, Fallon, Conan, and more; critical acclaim everywhere from the NY Times to Rolling Stone; massive festival appearances around the world; major tours with the likes of My Morning Jacket, M Ward, and The Lumineers; countless sold-out headline shows—but none of it mattered if they couldn’t answer that nagging question: what do we really want?
Some bandmembers used the break to grow their families, others to explore different artistic avenues. McMicken and Leaman each penned a mountain of songs on their own, inspired by the liberty of writing without expectation or responsibility. When the band finally reunited to begin work on ‘Critical Equation,’ they did so with fresh perspective. The distance had ironically brought them closer together, helping them learn to communicate in more honest and open ways. As they worked through the challenges and growing pains inherent in rewiring the foundation of any relationship, they found themselves more excited and inspired than ever before.
“We had to tear it apart in order to rebuild it,” explains McMicken. “At first, we’d just tiptoe into things and gently peel back a layer, but once we’d peeled back that layer, we’d find that we’d accessed an even deeper layer, and again and again. Eventually we got to the deepest, most honest part of ourselves.”
Typically, Dr. Dog would record themselves in their own studio, but one of the revelations from their break was that that brand of insularity had begun to feel more limiting than empowering. With that in mind, they packed their bags and headed to LA to record ‘Critical Equation’ with producer/engineer Gus Seyffert (Beck, Michael Kiwanuka), who served as something of a group therapist, whether he knew it or not.
“One of the big conclusions we came to was that we’ve got to blow this whole scene open,” explains Leaman. “We needed somebody to be the boss, somebody to be in charge of us in the studio. It’s not the way we’ve ever worked before, but we really trusted Gus.”
One listen to ‘Critical Equation’ and it’s clear that the decision paid off in spades. Recorded to 16-track analog tape, the album opens with the equally lilting and ominous “Listening In,” a track which pairs Dr. Dog’s signature blend of quirky 60’s pop and fuzzy 70’s rock with Seyffert’s willingness to tear their songs wide open. On “Go Out Fighting,” a vintage Hammond organ gives way to blistering electric guitar as McMicken sings a mantra of perseverance, while the dreamy “Buzzing In The Light” finds Leaman contemplating the mysteries of universe with gorgeously layered harmonies, and the slow-burning title track strips away everything but the vitality of the band’s live show in its rawest form.
“The take on the record was our first take in the studio,” says McMicken. “When we finished playing the song, everybody could feel that something special just happened.”
Despite the weighty self-reflection that led to its creation, ‘Critical Equation’ is perhaps the most playful entry in the Dr. Dog catalog. Even tracks that grapple with heartbreak—like the utterly contagious “True Love” and insanely catchy “Heart Killer”—are full of joy and humor, while the shuffling “Under The Wheels” finds a freedom and a lightness in surrendering to forces outside of your control. The record closes on a note of pure optimism with “Coming Out Of The Darkness,” a song McMicken wrote at the end of the band’s break, just as they were first beginning to discuss the future.
“It’s singular among all the songs I’ve ever written because it’s completely functional,” he explains. “It exists to take you from wherever you are and leave you somewhere better, and that felt poetically perfect for this phase of the band.”
In the end, it turns out that what the group really wanted was fairly simple: to make music that they loved with their friends, and to have fun doing it. Sometimes the simplest things can become more complicated than we ever imagined, but the band’s journey here proves that they’re always worth fighting for. It’s a rare thing to be able to say in this life, but with ‘Critical Equation,’ Dr. Dog got exactly what they wanted and a whole lot more.
“The record was ready to go, and then the election happened,” explains Prass. “I was devastated. It made me question what it means to be a woman in America, whether any of the things I thought were getting better were actually improving, who I am and what I believe in. I knew I would be so upset with myself if I didn’t take the opportunity to say some of the things that meant so much to me, so I decided to rewrite the record. I needed to make an album that was going to get me out of my funk, one that would hopefully lift other people out of theirs, too, because that’s what music is all about.”
The result is ‘The Future And The Past,’ a stunning work of art and a powerful feminist statement from an artist who’s only just begun to tap into the full range of her considerable powers. Reuniting Prass with producer and long-time friend Matthew E. White, the album is at once celebratory and defiant, capturing all the joy, frustration, fear and hope inherent in modern womanhood as it synthesizes the influence of everything from vintage gospel and 80’s pop to 90’s R&B and Brazilian Tropicália. Prass displays a rare gift for transcending time and place in her songwriting, tapping into age-old struggles for autonomy and equality that resonate profoundly in the present.
Though she’d been honing her craft and paying her dues for years, Prass first emerged to international acclaim in 2015, when her debut record earned its rightfully rapturous reception. Rolling Stone swooned for the Virginia native’s “beguiling voice and refined taste,” while Pitchfork praised her album as a “smoldering perspective on passionate romance,” and The New Yorker simply called it “timeless.” She appeared on the Martin Scorsese-helmed HBO series Vinyl, performed on the BBC’s Later… With Jools Holland, and CBS This Morning, and racked up more than ten million streams on Spotify. Before long, she was headlining dates around the world and playing festival stages from Bonnaroo and Rock En Seine to End Of The Road and Forecastle.
Once touring for the album had wrapped up, Prass took a stab at writing in new cities with fresh faces, spending time in London, LA, and Nashville, but it only served to reinforce the feeling that she belonged back home in Richmond. There, she holed up with White for intensive creative sessions as she attempted to work through the difficult existential questions she found herself facing in a country that expected women to be seen and not heard.
“I went over to his house every single day, and we’d work from 10am to 5pm straight just writing and listening and talking,” she explains. “It was very therapeutic for me, and I think it actually helped Matt to understand my point of view as a woman, too.”
Recorded once again at White’s Spacebomb Studios, the album showcases both a new political depth to Prass’s songwriting and a bold willingness to follow her muse wherever it leads. While her debut was marked by elaborate horn and string arrangements, ‘The Future And The Past’ finds Prass stripping her songwriting back to its most essential elements. Groove reigns supreme as she channels Dionne Warwick and Janet Jackson and lets her dazzling vocals dance across funky instrumental arrangements. Album opener “Oh My” sounds like a lost slice of 80’s gold, complete with off-kilter Talking Heads-esque guitar, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a song that’s pure 2018 as Prass sings, “Seems like every day we’re losing when we choose to read the news.” Losing’s not an option, though, and Prass makes it abundantly clear that women won’t even entertain the notion of moving backwards. On “Ain’t Nobody” she confidently promises that there “ain’t nobody can take this from our hands,” while the soulful, swaggering “Sisters” plays out like a mission statement for the entire album, as Prass and a chorus of female backup singers proclaim, “I wanna say it loud / for all the ones held down / we gotta change the plan.”
“I didn’t want to point any fingers, and I didn’t want to sound desperate or defeated,” she explains. “I wanted to stay positive and joyful. The world’s obviously not perfect, but there’s nothing we can’t do if we love and support each other. It was really important to me that these songs make people feel that way.”
It’s a principle that guides Prass throughout the album, no matter her subject material. On “Short Court Style,” she taps into Diana Ross disco and reflects on the bliss a healthy relationship can bring, while the hypnotic “Hot For The Mountain” assures all the outcasts and misfits that they’re not alone, and the playful “Never Too Late” conjures up a world where a wish upon a star can bring back lost love. Even in the album’s darker moments, like the Karen Carpenter-inspired ballad “Far From You” or the cooing pop gem “Nothing To Say,” Prass refuses to let go of her rebelliously optimistic streak. “I will never kneel when power is in fear and aimed upon me,” she sings on the South American-influenced “Ship Go Down,” adding “no no I am never drowning” in a breathy delivery that’s light as a feather and tough as nails.
Ultimately, ‘The Future And The Past’ is a record that’s about neither of those things. Instead, it’s about womanhood and the modern world and the things we can do right this very moment to make them both better through love and support and camaraderie. The album may have been born out of deep doubt and disappointment, but it insists on faith and optimism, and it succeeds because Prass leads by example, embracing her femininity on her own indomitable terms. “Music’s supposed to make you feel better,” she reflects, and in that respect alone, she’s created a genuine triumph.
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