Photos by Annalin Schell
By Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
Artist: Slaughter Beach, Dog
When: Thursday, November 17th
I was introduced to Slaughter Beach, Dog by a friend in high school, not long after they released their sophomore album Birdie. It was my first foray into a style of music that I came to grow a deep appreciation for. Soon, bands like American Football, Sunny Day Real Estate and Modern Baseball (of which SB, D especially wouldn’t have been possible without) were on my radar, all staples of the genre midwest emo. Of course, it’s debatable whether Slaughter Beach, Dog can be classified as midwest emo. A chunk of their discography, though, and one that sits especially close to my heart, has many of the elements— twinkling, sometimes whiney guitar overlaid by distinctive riffs; and soft, earnest, almost speak-singing vocals sharing intimate lyrics. But the band also incorporates strong elements of folk and rock into the mix.
Slaughter Beach, Dog was formed in 2014 as a side project of Modern Baseball’s co-frontman Jake Ewald. The original lineup consisted of Ewald, bassist Ian Farmer (also from Modern Baseball), guitarist Nick Harris (who was replaced by Adam Meisterhans in 2020) and drummer Zack Robbins (keyboardist Logan Roth later joined, too). While the two bands had a few years of overlap, it was the same year that Slaughter Beach, Dog had released Birdie, 2017, that Modern Baseball announced their indefinite hiatus.
At Slaughter Beach, Dog’s show at Roadrunner Thursday night, I could tell that there were audience members who had been fans of Modern Baseball first (who probably jumped at the opportunity to see half of the no longer touring band in the flesh), as well as people, like me, who maybe weren’t as initially wrapped up in the historical draw of the group. For their last few albums, Slaughter Beach, Dog played at the much smaller Sinclair in Cambridge. Following the band’s 2023 album Laughing, Crying, Waving, Smiling, they were able to expand to this larger arena. They filled not quite the entire venue (the upper mezzanine was closed), but bodies packed together, filling the floor for an enjoyable night of live music.
THE OPENING ACTS WEAVE SEAMLESSLY INTO THE FABRIC OF THE NIGHT
Erin Rae was the first act to take the stage, just her and her guitar. The singer-songwriter’s voice was reminiscent of Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten’s crooning on “Like I Used To,” with even a little more of a Southern twang. In between tracks, Rae made quips about doing extra guitar tuning for the Boston-area, as a music town like her home city of Nashville. For the last two songs of her set, Rae was joined by Slaughter Beach, Dog’s Adam Meisterhans on electric guitar. On the track “Can’t Cut Loose,” he added a subtle, unshowy, but talented all the same guitar solo.
While she eventually finished her own set, Rae returned to the stage to provide backing vocals for Slaughter Beach, Dog, especially for tracks off of Laughing, Crying, Waving, Smiling of which she was a part of the studio recording process for. Her voice nearly slipped into the more rock instrumentation-filled background of the song they chose to open the night with, “Bobcat Club.” But you could really hear Rae’s voice on the more acoustic track “Henry” — a beautiful contrast to Ewald’s vocals.
Hailing from Detroit, Bonny Doon was up next. While Bonny Doon is usually a trio — and the backing musicians to Waxahatchee at that — there were just two of them up on stage Thursday night. Bill Lennox and Bobby Colombo’s vocals created an interesting contrast between one another: one lower, with a slight gravel to it, and the other more smooth and airy.
Their presence continued the theme of geographically named bands (Bonny Doon is a neighborhood in Santa Cruz, and Slaughter Beach, a town in Delaware). That wasn’t the only semblance Bonny Doon had to the night’s main act. The third track on their most recent album Let There Be Music, titled “Crooked Creek,” seldom had repeating lyrics, instead telling a story over the few verses. This was similar to later tracks by Slaughter Beach, Dog like “Black Oak” and “Henry.”
The ladder song, from their most recent album, tells the bittersweet story of a young musician who is forced to go to military school where he “lost more than weight.” The former, “Black Oak,” had vocals that leaned towards speak-singing, which I have always been drawn to— between growing up on “Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash and the distinctive style of the Modern Lovers’ Jonathan Richman (who inspired the name of the very venue we’re gathered in). The backing percussion, formed by the drum petal, was like a heartbeat. The end of the song, however, had a shift. At the song’s climax, Zack Robbins was drumming his heart out, and Ewald was singing more than talking.
Bonny Doon’s set seemed to fly by, either from the quick nature of most of their songs, or from the anticipation of the act to come.
MIDWEST EMO IS ALIVE AND WELL
Most of the songs in Slaughter Beach, Dog’s set came off of their 2023 album. Some notable moments from Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling were the almost Bluesy-sounding (you can thank the keyboardist for that) “Strange Weather” and the slower, near-ballad “Tommy.” But they also jumped around between tracks from the other four LPs and two EPs they have under their belt. My favorite off of these was “Gold and Green,” one of their songs that is more unarguably midwest emo. Amid tempo changes and somewhat gloomy guitar riffs come lyrics about being young and envisioning a bright future.
The last two songs before the encore were the band’s most well-known. “This is a love song,” said Ewald before jumping into the very sweet “Acolyte.” Then soon after, the quick-tempoed strumming that leads into “104 Degrees” began. The song, which feels fitting for a movie soundtrack, was one of the night’s most high-energy moments. It also contained one of several pop culture easter eggs dispersed throughout their lyrics, referencing a Wilco song in the line “The driver curses with conviction, while ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ plays us out.”
Since encores usually save the ‘best’ (most popular) for last, I was pleasantly surprised when they returned to the stage for another three songs. First came Ewald alone, guitar and harmonica hung around his neck, seemingly acknowledging the Modern Baseball fans who had come out to tonight’s show by playing one of the last songs the band released before their hiatus, “Intersection.” Then, the whole band came out for one more from their 2017 EP Motorcycle.jpg — “Your Cat” — and the title track from their 2020 album At the Moonbase.
In 2023, it’s not often that you get the sense that midwest emo is alive and well, but Slaughter Beach, Dog had me truly believing that at the very least, core elements of the genre are being held onto. And I reveled in their power to unite both longtime fans of the genre and newcomers drawn in by their sound and poetic storytelling.