The Dude or Dr. Dog?
Sixth-Annual Lebowski Fest Opening Ceremonies
Louisville, KY, Friday, July 20
Review by Abby Tonsing
Photos by January Jones
In the Midwest, a 75-degree night with no humidity at the end of July is certainly a rare occurrence. So is getting handed a Tootsie Pop from a complete stranger dressed in a long blond wig, a white jumpsuit, and a black tool belt â€” a.k.a. The Dude in The Gutterballs sequence. Such was the scene during opening ceremonies at the sixth-annual Lebowski Fest in Louisville, Ky., a celebration of the Coen Brothersâ€™ cult-classic film The Big Lebowski. Movie fanatics in costume mingled comfortably in the unseasonably cool weather, and those wanting to abide by The Dude ran next door to the bowling alley for White Russians (â€œCaucasiansâ€) before the start of the music.
The oddity of the evening continued further as only two of the Brooklyn, N.Y., foursome VietNam graced the stage and began the nightâ€™s live music. Vocalist and guitar player Michael Gerner and bassist Ivan Berko strummed through the catalogue of their debut, self-titled album in an errie, almost-unplugged fashion. With only half the band in attendance, VietNamâ€™s performance lacked its psychedelic and raucous barroom feel the band has branded for itself.
VietNam played for a sedate crowd: Most of the concertgoers stood in line for Miller Chills and T-shirts at the merchandise booth than did for the band itself. Songs such as â€œMr. Goldfingerâ€ and â€œHotel Riverviewâ€ did get a nice reaction from the concertgoers in front of the stage, albeit they remained seated and cozied on blankets.
An emcee cited â€œstrife with the other members of the bandâ€ as an explanation for the absence of vocalist and guitar player Joshua Grubb and drummer Michael Foss, and thanked Gerner and Berko for still making the performance.
Whereas the night lacked in humidity, the Philadelphia-based quintet Dr. Dog didnâ€™t show it, as they immediately began sweating as soon as they pounced on stage and on their instruments. Although they opened with â€œTumbling Tumbleweeds,â€ not a thing about Dr. Dogâ€™s performance resembled the lackadaisical rolling tumbleweeds of the filmâ€™s opening. Finally, the crowd came alive, swarmed the front of the stage, and tried to keep up.
Highlights of Dr. Dogâ€™s set included songs featured in the movie. Much to the crowdâ€™s delight, a kid in a red T-shirt appeared on stage and sang â€œJust Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),â€ by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. A copy of the songâ€™s lyrics printed from the Internet shaking in his hand, the kid didnâ€™t really catch his stride until he realized he didnâ€™t need the lyrics anymore. He wadded them up, littered into the crowd, donned a pair of shades, and let his condition take over.
When asked about the identity of the young singer, guitar player and vocalist Frank McElroy joked, â€œI dunno. Kenny Rogers Jr.â€ McElroy said of the band working on the covers before their set, â€œWe practiced them instrumentally a lot. Well, for one night last night,â€ he chuckled. â€œAnd then today we tried to sing them, and it didnâ€™t go so well. So we were going to have karaoke.â€
Bass player and vocalist Toby Leaman expounded: â€œWe were trying to do that â€˜Just [Dropped] Inâ€™ song. I was supposed to sing it, but I didnâ€™t want to sing it. Nobody wanted to sing it. Itâ€™s sort of in a lower register. Itâ€™s the kind of song where you shouldnâ€™t be playing anything if youâ€™re singing it. So we were trying to look for people to sing it all day. And this kid said he could do it.â€
McElroy, who most resembled Jeff Bridgesâ€™ character The Dude of his fellow band mates, summed up the Lebowski experience with a â€œNice marmet.â€
Click here for more pictures. Here’s a short clip of the Dr. Dog that night:
Look for Dr. Dog on tour with Wilco in September. A song a week is featured on the bandâ€™s website.