Spin Doctors

By Allen Howie

Bands with a brief recorded history can have a tough time fleshing out their set list to fill an evening. The solution usually takes one of three forms: rolling out new, as-yet-unrecorded material, throwing in a batch of covers or giving each song an extended treatment. This last approach is by far the most challenging; it can take plenty of energy and solid musicianship to maintain interest in a song much beyond its normal length.

The Spin Doctors, undaunted by the challenge, chose this very tactic in their Jan. 14 show at Macauley Theatre. Much to their credit, they pulled it off brilliantly, adding new depth and detail to every song they played.

Because last year's Pocket Full of Kryptonite had such a loose, live feel, it was interesting to see how they would actually sound in person. The answer is: great. It's still hard to believe that your basic bass/guitar/drums/vocals lineup could deliver such a full sound, but the Spin Doctors spent more than two hours doing exactly that.

The chief architect of this aural excursion was guitarist Eric Schenkman. Given plenty of time to wander around within each number, he called up sharp rhythmic chords and inventive, melodic leads with disarming ease. While Mark White on bass and drummer Arron Comess built an unshakeable rhythmic backbone, Schenkman took off on one sonic orbit after another, always returning to base at just the right moment to keep things rolling.

Loose-limbed lead singer Chris Barron's phrasing owes as much to jazz as it does to his rock counterparts. He routinely hung notes out past the beat or drew them up short, tumbling back in at the last second to keep the song on course.

The band played two sets, kicking the show off with the r&b twists and turns of "Shinbone Alley," then falling into a Doors-like trance on "Hambone." "Hole in My Pocket" featured the same inspired guitar work that became the show's signature, with a long, lean solo that rose up out of the swirling feedback-drenched tones and then sank back again like some frantic flying reptile snagged by a tar pit. The rest of the set followed suit, with Schenkman slicing off dazzling chunks of rhythm, then letting the bass and drums anchor the song and taking his fluid, frenzied leads ballistic. The Doctors call to mind Lynyrd Skynyrd's ability to mix a danceable r&b groove with a big guitar sound and pull it off. The set continued with a teetering psychedelic swirl that gelled into the rubbery "Forty or Fifty," and ended with the crowd-pleasing funk of "What Time Is It?"

The boys came back swinging, working the crowd into a lather with "Jimmy Olsen's Blues" and the crunch of "Refrigerator Car." Through a set that was notably more compact than their first, they careened like a rock slide, sweeping up bodies left and right as they roared along. They slowed only momentarily, for a genuinely pretty "How Could You Want Him," then hurtled into the controlled chaos toward a rousing "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" and an encore capped by a dramatic reading of "More Than She Knows." The Spin Doctors left the stage having put their own spin on an altogether satisfying evening of rock and roll.