A Giant Dog Teases Impending Concept Album
Austin punk quintet transports partygoers to “Avalonia”
By Kevin Curtin,
4:20PM, Mon. May 24, 2021
Bashing out a sequence of career-spanning sing-alongs to attendees of a private backyard concert on Friday, A Giant Dog revealed the show’s close: the live debut of a forthcoming album in its entirety.
The band had been working on said album for “a couple years,” noted singer/guitarist Andrew Cashen.
“No, a couple months,” amended vocalist Sabrina Ellis with a smile.
Cashen further explained, in between songs, that the LP, ostensibly titled Bite, would appear in the coming years.
“Months,” Ellis again corrected.
Time’s relative, especially emerging from a pandemic year that flew by for some and lasted eons to others. In either case, a backyard concert from a beloved Austin band that hasn’t played in over a year signaled a return – not to “normalcy,” because who wants to lead “normal” lives, but to the kind of musical experiences that make Austin a special place to reside. Of the roughly 50 people at the invite-only show, taking place at Ellis’ home: most were friends of the band, 10 were fans who won tickets via an online raffle, and several more were part of a film crew documenting the performance.
Though Austin felt more like Seattle through most of a drizzly, cloudy weekend, the sun shone down on Friday and only began to dip as the quintet started their set at 8pm. A booming floor tom from drummer Danny Lion commenced opener “The Grand,” an untamed mini-anthem from the band’s 2010 seven-inch debut, before veering into the innocent punk offering of “Nutria,” off the group’s final pre-Merge Records release Bone. Amid the staccato pulse of the emotionally sharp “I’ll Come Crashing,” Ellis – a supreme performer – gained full command of the scenario, throwing themselves to the grass as if being tossed down by the pressure of the word, then bounding back up just in time to hit a vocal cue.
By then, the sun recessed out of sight and stray raindrops fell infrequently. Even so, peak energy clicked on the melodically exhilarating “Jizzney.” Cashen slid out a guitar solo using a Bic lighter as Ellis emoted big outstretched dance moves.
As it turns out, that may have been a rain dance, because a brief but soaking shower ensued. Chronicle photographer David Brendan Hall emerged from the house with a clutch armful of towels for the band and crew to dry off gear. Fittingly, the precipitation came just as A Giant Dog sequenced into the set of new material, making it all the more momentous.
As Cashen triggered a keyboard sequence, a new addition to AGD’s stage show, they slid into “Avalonia,” which extolled virtual love and yearned for a paradisiacal lost continent. Soon, another instantly memorable song found Ellis and Cashen singing amongst a melancholic chord progression: “I believe in gravity and drugs and outer space/ I believe that misery is meant to be escaped.” It soon became obvious that the song cycle pivoted conceptually on love, technology, and escapism.
Ellis’ costume change, which coincided with the new material, brought to mind medieval leather armor. That mirrored the epic nature of the Avalonia-centered songs, which felt a 33.3 percent heavy metal, 33.3 percent Broadway, and 33.3 percent A Giant Dog. The loudest audience response, in fact, occurred during the first chorus of “In Destiny,” which found Ellis singing like Ronnie James Dio over some surprising Eighties metal riffing by Cashen, fellow guitarist Andy Bauer, and bassist Graham Low. No wonder the band recently released a T-shirt design featuring a topless warrior woman riding a three-headed dragon.
It all makes sense now.
Five of the nine new cuts resounded with the catchiness and quality of lead singles, including the closing song, which featured a chorus sung in French. Alas, the penultimate offering stood out with a particularly potent hook: “One of these days I’ll learn you just have to watch it burn.” By previewing the forthcoming album, which immediately stands apart from all their other releases, A Giant Dog gave us something to look forward to.