Live Review: Dog of Man @ The Hope & Ruin, Brighton (16/8/19)

"It's like a circus gone wrong."

Having struggled for hours to find a way of encapsulating Dog of Man's sound, I can think of no description more fitting than my friend's comment halfway through their album launch gig at the Hope and Ruin last Friday. They might possess many of the hallmarks of a regular band, but their sound defies neat categorisation; how many psychedelic punk outfits have an accordion as a lead instrument?

Their sound and energy as a live band have to be discussed as one because they’re directly related. Singer and accordion enthusiast Mike Milner appears half-feral as he casts a crazed eye over the crowd, looking for all the world like a gene splice between Frank Zappa and System of a Down’s Daron Malakian. Guitarist Sam Salter, bassist Ben Bailey, and drummer Jack Ellis round out the lineup on their respective instruments, resulting in a four-piece with elements of King Crimson’s playing style and just about everything else conceivable.

Their music goes through changes in tempo and time signature, and some parts of the set are improvised. Milner says this is to keep the experience of playing live as fresh for the band as it is for the audience; “if you’re playing the same song every day for three years it gets really boring.” Fortunately, their live shows are anything but. The eclectic mash of genres kept the crowd invested throughout, with some songs gradually blending into the next. In my list of notes I drunkenly made on my phone during the gig, the first bullet simply says ‘FUN’, which I feel to be a concise summary.

Dog of Man’s four members all shared the same house on Hollingbury Terrace and started out by jamming together with no particular genre in mind. The end result is raw and organic, with a far more concrete identity than any by-the-numbers BIMM music project. Milner’s accordion is a big part of their sound, manifesting as a manic, high-pitched organ grinder that cuts through Salter’s scuzzy guitar like a demented carousel on acid. The band were thoroughly enjoyable to watch onstage, leaping and thrashing around as though possessed, and the crowd gathered at the Hope and Ruin were suitably receptive to their energy, shouting along to the chorus of single Meatcure with fervent glee.

Audience interaction is a big part of the Dog of Man experience; in the run-up to the album release, one song was put out each week and fans were able to vote on the subsequent tracklisting. Apparently, the running order that resulted was exactly how the band intended it, which goes to show their level of connectivity with their audience. Really though, I can only achieve so much by trying to describe Dog of Man in text alone. Like a complicated parking manoeuvre or a particularly violent thunderstorm, they have to be witnessed firsthand to be fully appreciated.

Photos by Babak Roshan

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