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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

Dependability is an underrated virtue for a rock band, almost necessarily so. It’s easy to take for granted when a group consistently performs excellently. There are the notable exceptions—Bruce Springsteen, U2 and, increasingly so, the Flaming Lips—but for the most part, the bands that trot out day by day to entertain with predictable flair are seen as owing something, rather than appreciated for their reliability. Still, every night can feel special in its own way, and last night at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, Dr. Dog, one of rock’s soon-to-be steady hands, played a strong set of favorites as well as providing some signature moments.

Dr. Dog is Philadelphia’s most notable indie-rock band, comprised of Toby Leaman (bass guitar and lead vocals), Scott McMicken (lead guitar and lead vocals), Frank McElroy (rhythm guitar), Zach Miller (keyboard) and Eric Slick (drums). Over the course of seven albums, most recently Be the Void, they have created and perfected a sound that borrows familiar classic-rock elements, such as the Beatles’ and Beach Boys’ harmonies and pop maximalism, in addition to adding their own unique touch. The vocal interplay between Leaman and McMicken is thrilling: Leaman growls and yells while McMicken exercises his falsetto. And with a growing catalog of favorites, the group is able to play extended crowd-pleasing shows.

On Thursday night, Dr. Dog began with Shame, Shame’s “Shadow People.” They played behind an altered American flag with neon colors and only three stars (the symbolism escaped me). Quickly, they settled into the pattern of slow opening verses leading to huge climactic choruses, with harmonized oohs and aahs. Some cute touches were added to “I Only Wear Blue” and “The Old Days” when an electronic effect such as a horse nay and hand claps were added. But the big and memorable moment came when Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez stumbled onto the stage during “Worst Trip.” With a shaker in hand, he jumped around and eventually made his way atop Leaman’s shoulders for the end of the song. And as the bassist, somewhat startled, explained, the two groups have been touring for a while. Another example of how, even after so long, the expected can produce the expected.

Photo courtesy of JC McIlwaine | jcmcilwaine.com

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(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)

In 2007 on Eye to Eye with Katie Couric, Levon Helm made a surprising confession. When asked by interviewer Anthony Mason how throat cancer affected his status as a singer, Helm responded, “I’ve always thought of myself as the drummer and I’d take my turn to sing whenever I’d have to, but my joy is to play the drums.” This sentiment is not a coping strategy. In fact, Rolling Stone ranked him No. 91 in the list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Rather, Helm, a drummer for more than 50 years with acts ranging from the Hawks to his career-defining stint with the Band, seems quite pleased to continue drumming into his 70s, even if his voice is faltering. And on Monday night at Central Park’s SummerStage, he steadily manned his band’s rhythm section, contented by a workman’s approach and delighted with a broad smile.

Joined by openers Hayes Carll and seminal country musician Emmylou Harris, the Levon Helm Band played from nightfall to rainfall. In the beginning, Helm offered his vocals on the Band classic “Ophelia.” Fans showed great appreciation for the effort, a reminder of Helm’s rare ability to simultaneously sing and drum exceeding well. And despite being able to sustain vocal duties, the rest of his extraordinarily talented band compensated for the loss, singing and harmonizing beautifully throughout the show.

Renditions of country standards “Long Black Veil” and “Deep Elem Blues,” made popular by the Grateful Dead, shared similarities to the original versions but took on a unique, lively character when played by the Levon Helm Band, a reflection of the band’s namesake. So even as rain poured down on the all-ages crowd, Helm and his band’s energy overcame the elements. And when the band closed with “The Weight,” joined by special guests Shawn Colvin, Joan Osborne and David Bromberg, all in attendance forgave the weather and sang along. We’re more than happy to share vocal duties with Helm.

Photo courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | www.gregggreenwood.com

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