Dogstar at Park West

Keanu ReevesBy Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
May 27, 1999

You’ve got to hand it to Dogstar. It’s not easy being taken seriously when the media-and even some fans-don’t really want you to be. But the trio-which includes movie star Keanu Reeves on bass-was well-prepared for its one-hour concert Wednesday night at the Park West.

Debuting 15 songs from their upcoming album, “Happy Ending,” the musicians’ aggressive set was a vast improvement over their 1995 Chicago debut at the same venue. Back then, Dogstar appeared tentative and somewhat cowed by the adulation aimed at their famous bassist. This time around, they confidently served up catchy songs with muscular rhythms and strong hooks.

Who knew?

Sure, the lookyloos were out in full force to gawk at Reeves, who was clad in well-worn jeans and a black T-shirt. But when singer-guitarist Bret Domrose played a solo acoustic version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” he got a rousing ovation.

As a former member of the San Francisco punk band the Nuns, Domrose’s forte has always been his guitar wok, which at times overpowered his vocals. Not anymore. Domrose has grown into a confident singer who tackled the punk-infused “Alarming” as naturally as he did the Carpenters’ ballad “Superstar.”

As wordsmiths go, Dogstar, which also includes drummer Rob Mailhouse, has a way to go before achieving the kind of lyrical poetry that seems second nature to someone like Lucinda Williams. They’re not alone there. Ninety percent of radio could learn a thing or two about songwriting from the likes of Williams, Bob Dylan or even Noel Gallagher.

But they play with honest conviction. Perhaps because they feel they have to overcome the “stigma” of having a star in their fold, the musicians try a little harder than, say, Matchbox 20 or Natalie Imbruglia.

To be perfectly honest, I was expecting more of a shriekfest along the lines of a Backstreet Boys concert. But a good chunk of the audience was familiar with the band’s material-a surprise considering the band’s only other releases were a 4-song CD and an album that was never released in the United States.

Backstage after the show, Reeves, who didn’t utter a peep on stage shyly said, “The audience was very kind. They made it a lot of fun for us to play.”

There will be no touring while Reeves films “Replacements.” (And no, the movie isn’t about the Minneapolis-based band of the same name.) But the band promised to be back this fall when “Happy Ending” is in stores.

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