Review - Dogstar @ the Guild Theatre (8/23/23)

Kevin Keating
Dogstar @ the Guild Theatre (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Dogstar @ the Guild Theatre (Photo: Kevin Keating)

After the surprise announcement of Dogstar's reunion at the Bottlerock festival earlier this spring, a band that's essentially been dormant for nearly two decades, I've been eagerly awaiting news of Dogstar's return to the Bay Area. Last month, news of a new album and tour hit the wires and when tickets for last night's date at the Guild Theatre in Menlo Park went on sale, the show instantly sold out. Clearly, I wasn't alone in my anticipation! So as I approached the venue, I wasn't completely surprised to find a line of folks in folding chairs stretched a block down El Camino outside of the venue. What I realized as I got closer, was that those patiently waiting fans weren't in line waiting to get into the Guild, they were autograph seekers waiting to see if they could meet Dogstar's bassist -- Keanu Reeves. The fans who did have tickets and went into the Guild I soon began to realize weren't necessarily fans of Dogstar, but were there for the spectacle of witnessing one of Hollywood's most celebrated actors. What transpired was a lackluster showing that unfortunately left much to be desired -- and which may have explained the reason why no media approvals were provided for any local outlet too!

Dogstar, a band celebrated for their unique fusion of alternative rock and grunge influences in the late '90s, took the stage to a roaring reception from the crowd. Keanu Reeves, the magnetic Hollywood presence, walked to stage right and recognized his star power by goading the audience to take as many cell phone pictures as possible before the band began to perform. Keanu pretended to have a phone in his hand as he snapped photos of the audience taking pictures of him until fans finally began to put their phones away. Keanu stood as the main attraction throughout the night, drawing attention as he reliably manned the bass. His performance was steady, providing the anchor to the band's sound, but even his star power couldn't rescue the evening.

After that initial Keanu rush at the start of their set, a palpable distance began to separate the band from the audience. The energy exchange, a crucial element of live performances, remained disappointingly one-sided. Despite the band's attempts to bridge the gap, the crowd's response remained subdued, contributing to an atmosphere that lacked the electricity that defines a memorable concert experience. Part of the problem was that the band performed material that hasn't officially been released yet, so the majority of the audience weren't familiar with the songs. The other part is just a hunch, but again, I'd argue that most of the audience was in the orbit of Keanu and had (misplaced) expectations that he'd also be the star of the band -- but very few bassists are ever the 'stars' of the band. Bassists are those reliable backing members that along with the drummer, provide the throbbing rhythm section and take a back seat to the vocalist and/or lead guitarist. Keanu didn't even have a microphone stand in front of him, almost relishing in the fact that he was there in a supporting role to lead singer and guitarist, Bret Domrose.

Dogstar @ the Guild Theatre (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Dogstar @ the Guild Theatre (Photo: Kevin Keating)

The setlist, a mixture of classic hits and material from their upcoming album release, failed to ignite the spark that one might expect from a band making a return after nearly two decades. While the promise of new material was exciting, the lack of genuine fervor in Bret Domrose's vocals rendered even their tried-and-true tracks, like "Blonde" and "Flowers," lackluster shadows of their former selves.

The show's energy levels remained noticeably deflated, and the audience's detachment hindered any chance of a mutual exchange of enthusiasm between the stage and the audience. Despite the cohesion between the band members, the palpable lack of excitement marred the overall experience, preventing the show from reaching its full potential. Bret battled technical difficulties periodically through the night at one point quipping just before "Math", 'this next song is the one I don't get to play the wah wah pedal on.'

Bret did is best to engage the audience after one technical break down; asking 'You alright? I'm back with you, be back with us.' Again later in the night he said, 'geez, it's quiet.' (which stoked the audience to cheer) and he replied 'there we go.' But that's how the night went. The trio onstage performed what you'd envision to be a group of three dads playing in their garage. A capable performance without the passion and connection needed to make the night truly memorable. All the more disappointing was that this was Bret's hometown show - having grown up in Santa Clara - this should have been the night where family, friends and die-hard fans made up the bulk of the audience. And I trust they were there, but overwhelmingly I felt that the majority were there to be in the presence of actor Keanu Reeves and not Dogstar bassist.

The Dogstar concert at the Guild Theatre on August 23rd, 2023, marked the band's first tour in roughly two decades, and the excitement surrounding this revival made the disappointment all the more profound. Keanu Reeves' presence, while magnetic, was unable to mask the prevailing sense of underwhelming engagement from both the crowd and the band. As they gear up for an album release, it's clear that Dogstar has the potential for a powerful resurgence, but this particular concert fell short of recapturing their former glory.

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Dogstar Setlist The Guild Theatre, Menlo Park, CA, USA 2023

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