Dopapod 3.31 - 4.2.16
Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Amanda Siedner (Amanda Sandwicch Photography)
Videos By John Mehren (Vicarious Visions)
Thursday March 31, 2016:
Ever since I first saw their late night set at Summer Camp Music Festival in 2013, Dopapod is a band that has continuously inspired me through their music. As they grow in both talent and notoriety, circumstances are allowing them to perform more even comfortably and naturally. For example, they are able to schedule multi-night runs in the same city now, which gives fans a chance to see the band after a day of rehearsing at the venue rather than a day of sitting in a van together. This is helping the group to take their playing to the next level. Although I wasn’t there, last year’s first-ever three-night run at the Sinclair in Boston, MA provided some of my favorite soundboard recordings I had heard from the band. Upon hearing them, I made the decision almost immediately that I could not miss their next three night run of club shows. I finally got the chance to make good on this promise to myself for the three-night, tour-opening run at Denver’s Bluebird Theater.
I do have one major complaint about the venue, that being that they made a point of not making free water available to their patrons. Multiple staff members told me that there was no water fountain available and if I wanted water, I would need to purchase a bottle at the bar. I did so, and went along with my night, but this is a highly unethical practice and it ought to be illegal. Any facility in a first-world country ought to offer their patrons free hydration, but especially a facility that serves alcohol. I understand that the historic building may not have included water fountains, but this issue could be easily resolved if they just filled a few jugs from the tap and made cups available around the venue. Hopefully they can get this corrected soon, before anything bad happens to any of their patrons.
Dopapod’s fans are generally appreciative of music that is intensely progressive, and the audience was mesmerized by Consider the Source’s incendiary performance. The in-your-face, shredding peaks were broken up with tasteful downtempo sections that kept taking me by surprise. The trio is so flush with instrumental talent; it is tough to believe. Guitarist Gabe Marin’s double-neck guitar helps him to keep an array of tonal variety at his fingertips, which are some of the quickest in the land. His expressive touch and microtonal variations through his whammy bar and wah pedal are what first drew me to listen to the band.
As I’ve grown more familiar with their work, I have learned to spend more time listening to bassist John Ferrera’s hyper-melodic playing. The way he grooves with drummer Jeff Mann is seriously impressive. No matter how strange things got, they always kept it danceable. I thought to myself countless times that I couldn’t believe I was dancing to something that sounded like this. Jeff has clearly spent a lot of time studying the classic rhythms of Indian music, and John bridges this into Gabe’s middle-eastern shredding with his authoritative work on the low end.
By the time Dopapod was ready to take the stage, the crowd had been well prepared for a high-intensity show. The band came out with clear intentions of challenging their fans’ expectations. They walked out to the backing track of “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by who else but the Backstreet Boys. Hardcore fans shot each other confused glances, and my best friend, who was seeing the band for his first time, went wild that he had beat me to calling the song.
What happened next requires a bit of historical context. Dopapod superfan Dan DeBarr had been petitioning for the band to play a cover of Rush’s “YYZ” for over two years by posting hundreds of meme photos in the DopaFam Facebook group. While the band had enjoyed toying with him on several prior occasions with numerous teases of the song, they had never given any indication that they planned to appease his wishes in full. Following the “Backstreet’s Back” intro, drummer Scotty Zwang kicked the quartet off with Neal Peart’s cymbal intro to “YYZ,” which we all assumed at first would be just another tease. But then the full band came in behind him, and within a few seconds it was clear that this was far more than just the band harassing Dan.
The band ripped this cover apart with amazing precision, with keyboardist Eli Winderman somehow finding space in the mix to add in organ and synth parts atop the original lines of the power trio. Guitarist Rob Compa and bassist Chuck Jones sounded just like Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, respectively. Rush is not the type of band that you can just cover on a whim, and you could tell that each member had studied the song diligently. The crowd ate it up, and my friend and I were reminded of long hours spent in my family’s basement playing through “YYZ” on Guitar Hero 2. Dan’s screams of joy echoed through the venue, and it was clear that the run was off to a fantastic start.
They moved next into “Trapper Keeper,” which saw the band delve into the first improvisation of the night. A nice, funky dance jam featured Eli’s Rhodes heavily, and served as a nice warmup. The next track, “French Bowling” saw Eli working more on the clavinet as things got very spacey. This jam worked its way into a full-band tease of “Backstreet’s Back,” causing me to simultaneously cringe and smile. As much as I disapproved of the song choice, the band’s message rang loud and clear. As listeners, they want us to be prepared for anything and everything. They returned to finish “French Bowling,” before transitioning into the run’s first original debut, “Present Day.”
The second set began with an extended spacey synth intro that included dubious teases of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” before Chuck and Scotty started giving signs of “8 Years Ended” after almost five minutes. Rob and Eli slowly joined in, with Rob teasing out the rhythm to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” as they built tension and approached the first verse of “8 Years Ended.” I love this song’s guitar riff; its power makes me think of thousands of people rioting in the street. The song’s jam was centered around Eli’s organ lines, and at one point saw an extended tease of “If You Wish Upon a Star” from Rob. After this, there was a stop-and-start section that saw Chuck take the reins of the jam. Rob and Eli followed behind him, adding flourishes into the space between his low notes. Eventually, Scotty kicked the tempo up and propelled the band out of deep space, directing them to a nice landing back onstage at the Bluebird as Rob’s expository shredding linked them back into “8 Years Ended.” Just like that, a half-hour seemed to evaporate and the run had its first signature jam to open the second set.
The band ran with this energy as they began “Priorities,” with Rob’s jagged-sounding riff setting the stage for some pensive, Rob-penned lyrics that explore the moral implications of his intentions as a musician. The band has explored some interesting lyrical directions since beginning to incorporate vocals, and this song is a favorite example of that. The resulting jam contained an extensive tease of “Peter’s Theme” from Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” This was really unexpected, but offered a nice, relaxed atmosphere that made me think of a Disney cartoon.
“Picture in Picture” followed, beginning with a cool arpeggiator section before Chuck’s soupy, thick bass tone introduced the song properly. This tune usually sees great improv treatment, and tonight was no exception. The boys went all out during this section, creating a frenetic backdrop as Eli laid down a slow, swirling clav line. The jam immediately reminded me of 4/17/2015’s version of “Freight Train Filled with Dynamite,” with Eli’s clav part serving as a disorienting accent above a powerful, driving rhythm. Both jams made me feel as if I were strapped in and traveling across the galaxy. A wonderfully polished romp through “FABA” closed out the set, including some nice “Vol. 3 #86” teases from Eli during the jam.
From cover-to-cover, Dopapod seriously threw it down on the first night of this run. The payoff from months of studio time and rehearsals was apparent in the quality of their improvisation, and the setlist was written to take full advantage of this. They were unafraid to get into extremely exploratory jams and incorporate multiple lengthy teases before returning to earth. The improvisation was loose and flowing in a way that you just won’t see at every show.
Set One: YYZ, Trapper Keeper, French Bowling > Present Day, Turnin Knobs
Set Two: 8 Years Ended, Bubble Brain, Priorities, Picture in Picture, FABA
Encore: Carolina, Donkey Kong Theme
 Rush cover
 “Everybody (Backstreet's Back)” (Backstreet Boys) teases
 original debut
 “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (Pink Floyd), “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin), and “If You Wish Upon a Star” (Cliff Edwards) teases
 “Peter and the Wolf” (Prokofiev) teases
 “Vol. 3 # 86” teases
 “Another Brick in the Wall (Pts. 1 and 2)” (Pink Floyd) and “Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen) teases
Friday April 1, 2016:
The Friday evening performance saw a wonderful opening set from Denver’s own live-electronic trio, The Malah. It was my second time seeing them play, and they definitely captivated me with their unique blend of electronic and organic sounds. Drummer Seth Fankhauser is an absolute beast behind the kit, able to groove smoothly at any tempo, but also capable of playing the drums as a lead instrument. His work is augmented by bassist Elliott Vaughn, as he switches between bass guitar and synthesizer. Guitarist Brandon Maynard also has both a synthesizer and a laptop for production. As they switch around their instrumentation, you start to see just how diverse their abilities are.
Dopapod took the stage to music from John Williams’ Star Wars score, transitioning smoothly into the original debut of “Super Bowl.” This fun track has a unique sound that is nicely balanced between clean guitar and high-frequency oscillation, with great vocal harmonies between Rob and Eli. I can see this track becoming a heavy-hitter in the future, especially given the amount of polish it shows at this point. Fan favorite, “Off the Cuff,” followed, with The Motet’s Joey Porter sitting in on keys. Eli ceded his entire rig to Joey for the first few minutes, then sat down beside him, taking back over the organ and clavinet, but leaving Joey his Rhodes and Moog. This section was vastly improved after he sat back down, but still felt abbreviated.
After thanking Joey for his help, the band moved on with a lengthy rendition of “Sonic.” This song builds slowly from Chuck’s bassline, with Rob’s delayed guitar riff giving way to Eli’s soulful synth exploration as Scotty keeps things loose and bouncy. Despite its length of nearly fifteen minutes, the improvisation felt very concise and almost directed. It just seemed like the band was a bit more confident in themselves than they had been the night before. All of the fire was still there, but they were just able to express it more easily and in less time.
The next song, “Flipped” saw a nice cover of Ween’s “Transdermal Celebration” sandwiched inside of it. Although this section was light on the improvisation, I was really impressed with their execution on the cover debut. I had seen Umphrey’s McGee play the same cover only a couple weeks before, and I have to say that Rob’s vocals compared favorably with Brendan Bayliss’s efforts.
They capped the set off with a great version of “Weird Charlie” that left audience members to pick up bits of their faces off the ground during set-break. Eli got a great chance to fully let loose on the clavinet and organ, which is truly a sight and sound to behold. The second set began on an intense note with “Psycho Nature.” This song is pretty terrifying the first few times that you hear it, but once you get comfortable with the eerie vibes, it is one of the more fun songs in their catalog. I don’t usually go into shows hoping that they will play it, but when they do I am always surprisingly excited. Songs like this one remind me that the band’s weirdness is what keeps drawing me back to see them. This version’s jam featured teases of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”
“New James” is probably the funkiest song in their catalog, and they turned to it here to keep the crowd dancing. Their smooth groove had everyone practically moonwalking around the Bluebird. Rob’s guitar solo saw a few teases of “Bats in the Cave,” before the rest of the band followed his lead and used a suave reggae jam to find their way into the full song. As Eli launched into the song’s extremely vocal synth line, the sparse instrumentation provided plenty of room for interpretive dancing. The jam saw Scotty kick the tempo up, giving way to a quick funk jam that reminded me of Umphrey’s McGee’s “Day Nurse.” Rob’s palm muting and tight syncopation with Eli’s organ parts absolutely left my jaw on the floor here.
They saved a true Dopapod classic to close the set in “Vol. 3 #86.” This song is one of the group’s best jam vehicles, and tends to make people feel like they are inside of a spaceship well before the improvisation even begins. This is due to Eli’s freakish abilities on the synthesizer, as well as Rob’s uncanny ability to keep up with him note-for-note on guitar. The jam worked its way through a pair of extensive teases, the first being the music to the Chemical Plant Zone section of the video game Sonic the Hedgehog 2. This was a bizarre sounding uptempo segment, but it was followed by the slower, minor-key jam around Black Sabbath’s self-titled track. This part sounded very foreboding and dark, aided by Chuck’s experimentation with his effects pedals. A ripping solo from Rob helped to connect them back to “Vol. 3,” which restored a happy energy to the room.
Night two of three saw perhaps the most complete show of the run. The band debuted a pair of awesome new songs, while also busting out some heavy-hitters that enabled them to really open up the improvisation. The jams were more confident and had a better sense of direction, but were more concisely executed. This lead to a more danceable show overall, and we saw the band grow more comfortable onstage as they re-acclimate to playing shows again. Expectations were pushed sky-high as we entered the final night of the run.
Set One: Super Bowl, Off the Cuff, Sonic, Flipped -> Transdermal Celebration-> Flipped, I am (Whale Song)1 , Weird Charlie
Set Two: Psycho Nature, Nerds, New James -> Bats in the Cave, Vol. 3 #86
Encore: Like a Ball
 original debut
 with Joey Porter (The Motet) on keys
 Ween cover
 “Watermelon Man” (Herbie Hancock) teases
 “Bats in the Cave” teases
 “Chemical Plant Zone” (Sonic the Hedgehog 2) and “Black Sabbath” (Black Sabbath) teases
 by audience request
Saturday April 2, 2016:
Night three featured support from Boston, MA-based jamband, The Jauntee. My east coast friends had given them universally positive reviews, but I was eager for the chance to see for myself. It was my first time seeing these guys play, and they did a great job of living up to the hype. One of the main descriptions I had heard of their music was that it was extremely “Phishy.” This is likely due to guitarist Caton Sollenberger’s flawless mimicry of Trey Anastasio’s tone, circa-1992. While they bear plenty of similarities to Phish, especially in terms of their influences, I believe they deserve a bit more credit for their originality.
Similar to the members of Dopapod, the members of the Jauntee met at Berklee School of Music in Boston. This connection goes even deeper, as Rob was actually the first person that Scott ever jammed with back in the day. To commemorate this awesome connection, the Jauntee invited Rob to sit-in with them for a cover of Frank Zappa’s “I Am the Slime.” This is a rotation cover for Dopapod, so I already knew Rob would destroy it. The Jauntee’s version was also quite impressive and you could definitely tell that they had listened very closely to the original. This song is way too much fun!
Dopapod took the stage to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” a fitting choice of walk-on music for the last night of the run. They got right into the dance party with nice takes on “Dracula’s Monk” and “Black and White.” “Weedie” followed, and it was my first time seeing this relatively new tune. Originally titled “Live in the Now,” the band renamed it after the Nth Power’s percussionist Weedie Braimah while they were touring with the Nth Power last fall. Weedie is such a cool guy that I already knew I would like the song before ever hearing it. Chuck’s bassline serves as a splendid foundation for the song, which features plenty of screaming from Eli. I think the vocals on this song have a lot of potential because the lyrics are interesting, but they can be improved. The screamed delivery fits the words well, but could be executed less abrasively, and I’m sure it will be as time goes on.
A jazzed-out intro from Rob and Scotty led the band into “Hey Zeus! (Que Tal?)” after a couple of faked-out teases from Rob. This short song stands out in their catalog as one of the tunes with the most country and bluegrass inspiration, and I love the way they use it to change the pace during their live shows. This time it paved the way for a slower, quieter number, “Upside of Down.” Lyrically, this is one of my very favorite Dopapod songs. I especially enjoy the way that Eli foreshadows the vocal parts on his keyboard. There are few musicians with such a natural gift to speak through their instrument, and even fewer who are able to utilize this skill in such a tasteful manner. In spite of all this, I have noticed that the song’s effect is still lost on many audience members, who often choose to talk over it because it is so quiet.
The always-intense, “Nuggy Jawson,” followed. This song is so dark and powerful, and it is that way because of Chuck’s brilliant effects. His technique is so focused on precise effect control; I love to watch him get a reaction out of the crowd without necessarily even playing anything flashy on his instrument. “Nuggy” saw a cool, Rob-led funk jam and carried on for about fifteen minutes. “Bluetooth” was played next, dedicated to crew member Rob “The Detective” Kimmel. This guy is responsible for getting the soundboards out promptly after each show, so we were all very happy to see his request honored. Plus, “Bluetooth” is an amazing song. Prior to the entrance of Eli’s synth line, it has almost a lounge jazz vibe. Once the synth begins and the tempo kicks up, it is more like a jazz-electronica fusion that compels everyone in the room to dance ridiculously. This great tune closed out the first set.
After some banter about Luke being the only member of the band to graduate from Berklee, set two began with the final original debut of the run, “Cure.” This track came out the gate with exceptional polish and saw stellar improv treatment on its first time out. I think this one fits into their existing catalog the best of the new originals. It’s a drum-and-bass-driven banger, with well-rounded instrumental contributions from Rob and Eli. Eli’s lead vocals sound amazing, and Rob’s harmonies fit right in. The jam was trancey, but Rob kept the melody very active throughout. The band played it with so much confidence in its debut that I can’t even imagine what kind of monster it will develop into over time.
Up next came “Braindead.” This one is right up there with “Psycho Nature,” as far as the best examples of how powerfully weird Dopapod can be. Like most of their songs, these two are instrumentally intense, but they are set apart by the oddness of their lyrics. When I listen closely to the words, I don’t find them relatable or enjoyable, but I still have to admit that they are both fascinating and well-written. I do really enjoy the jazzy end section to “Braindead,” which culminates in an epic, climaxing shredfest.
Thanks to this, he wasted no time taking control of the jam and building up some tension. He was undaunted by Luke’s comedic interjection of airhorn samples (yes, like the annoying ones from all of those rap songs). His interplay with Eli was impressive, but my favorite thing about his sit-in was the contagious energy he brought to the stage. Even after he left the stage, everyone in the room was ecstatic for the rest of the set. He was the sparkplug of this entire evening, and this version of “PLSS” has officially replaced 7/14/15 (Portland, OR) as my favorite version ever.
Rob took his guitar back over as the band played their classic original “We Are Not Alone.” This version lacked the distended, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” style organ intro that I have heard them do before (example, 7/13/15 Eugene, OR), but made up for it with a nice segue into “Onionhead” to close out the set. This song is a great dance track, and has one of the band’s most distinctive drum parts. I could just watch Chuck and Scotty play it and I know I would be getting down almost as hard. Before they even made it into the verse, Rob was already laying down “Funky Town” teases. The song’s improv section was dominated by “Nerds” teases from both Rob and Eli. I loved seeing them tie back to the previous night’s show by teasing a song that we all knew they wouldn’t actually play. These guys love to break the rules.
The chaotic ending gave way to “Indian Grits,” the perfect old song to close out the run in true Dopapod fashion. This show had a few utterly amazing moments, but didn’t flow as well as the two prior nights. Still, I would never have dreamed of missing any of the three nights to be anywhere else. They provided a cohesive experience and showed off just about every facet I was hoping to see. Sure, there were a few songs I’d still like to hear (cough, “Freight Train,” cough), but you won’t catch me complaining about another reason to see them again. The room was excellent, and filled with wonderful people each night. It was a huge treat to see such a talented group in such an intimate setting, especially because they are growing so quickly. In the future, when they start to play venues like the Fillmore, I know I will long for these days. My first three-night Dopapod run stands out as one of my favorite live music experiences to date, and I can’t wait to do it again!
Set One: Dracula's Monk, Black and White, Weedie, Hey Zeus! (Que Tal?) > Upside of Down, Nuggy Jawson, Bluetooth
Set Two: Cure, Braindead, PLSS, We Are Not Alone > Onionhead
Encore: TNT > Indian Grits
 Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith) tease
 original debut
 with Mike Gantzer (Aqueous) on guitar
 “Funky Town” (Lipps Inc.) and “Nerds” teases