A Giant Dog Triumphs on A Giant Stage

Jack White plays too

“Last time we played here was for one girl in a Korn shirt,” announced A Giant Dog guitarist/vocalist Andrew Cashen, recalling the locals’ scarcely attended X Games gig at the Circuit of the Americas Amphitheater in 2015. “This is a lot better.”

A Giant Dog’s Sabrina Ellis (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Indeed, the Austin foursome counted thousands of spectators at their hometown’s largest permanent stage, which synced to the band’s recent trajectory. In the last six weeks, A Giant Dog has played to quadruple-digit audiences during South by Southwest’s Austin Music Awards showcase on Auditorium Shores, at Stubb’s before Ty Segall for last weekend’s Levitation, and in four slots warming up a brief portion of the current tour by Jack White, for whom they opened last night. In July, they’ll kick off the recently announced Jawbreaker show.

Wednesday’s heated AGD appearance left only one question: why haven’t they been playing stages this size for years?

“I wanted it and more,” belted Sabrina Ellis in early set highlight “Bendover,” her melodically acrobatic pipes resounding tremendous on the amphitheater’s grande P.A. Meanwhile, the Spring-raised Texan’s physical presence, a back-and-forth gambol of pelvic thrusting interpretive dance, filled the platform with arena-sized gusto, notably on “Survive.” That song, also sourced from last year’s Merge-issued fourth LP Toy, culminated in an eruptive emotional coda that Ellis sung collapsed at center stage.

A Giant Dog at Circuit of the Americas, 5.2.18 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Credit the band with turning a song that begins with the lyric, “I’m such a piece of shit. I wanna kill myself,” into a mass conveyance of pure resiliency.

So sparks stadium rock for the punk set. A Giant Dog’s exceptional, hour-long performance grew in intensity as humanity poured in for the headliner and the group demonstrated that it excels on A Giant Stage – rare for a heavy band that runs on body heat. That’s where they belong, though, be it through festivals or opening for the last rock & roll mogul.

“Seven Nation Armyyyyyy!” bellowed a twentysomething pleb from the lawn area after Jack White and his band beat the stuffing out of funk anti-infomercial “Corporation,” followed by a snippet from Stooges standard “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”

Jack White

Carla Azar

In most ways, the final Texas stop by the Third Man Records entrepreneur proved typically impressive. He’s assembled another phenomenal backing band of underground blue-chippers, notably agile drummer Carla Azar of Autolux, that plays with loose intensity. Out front, he navigated a career-spanning set-list that included a strong take on the Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Soldier,” restating himself as a dominant performer with invincible ability to deliver songs in a way that feels genuine.

Throughout it all, the single-minded fan in the back continued to rally for the headliner’s biggest hit: “One-two-three-four-five-six-Seven Nation Armyyyyy!”

The secondary distinction of White’s latest era is that he’s scrapped his plastic Montgomery Airline guitar for an Eddie Van Halen signature series Wolfgang model, which didn’t significantly alter his proprietary amplifier sound, but evidenced an unusual exactness to his axe action. The bigger difference is that his new material is largely indigestible. The prominently placed “Connected By Love,” lead single from March’s Boarding House Reach, fell far flat of its anthem pursuits.

Encore sacrifice “Ice Station Zebra” evidenced his embarrassing new brand of piano-punctuated rap-rock, which sounds like Rage Against the Machine with Dixieland jazz underpinnings. The Detroit native’s BHR offerings arrived not only diminutive to his White Stripes material, highlighted by a sprightly “Hotel Yorba” and thundering “Doorbell,” but also a cut below the six songs culled from previous LP Blunderbuss.

Conversely, “Why Walk a Dog?” became the new album’s sleeper live triumph, coming across so deep, rich, and moody that it could have been a companion to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” That was the mid-show climax for those looking for something new, but it was the iconic closer that elicited uncontrollable screaming from the guy in the back.

“Bumm-bum-bum-bum-bum-bumm-bummm.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

A Giant Dog, Jack White, Sabrina Ellis, Andrew Cashen, White Stripes, Raconteurs, Third Man Records, Carla Azar, Autolux, Stooges, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

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