Rockville Music [Release date 19.08.16]
A rarely seen and heard prog phenomena. So, Pavlov’s Dog 40 years on, pedigree, mongrel or pup?
Formed in St Louis, Missouri, in 1972 Pavlov’s Dog were a brief starburst in the 1970′s prog constellation, recording three albums between 1975 and their dissolution in 1977, and even in that short period seeing a number of players – including Bill Bruford and Reo Speedwagon guitarist Steve Scorfina – pass through the ranks. Like many bands in the era their sound was built around an armoury of lead guitar, organ, piano, synthesizer, mellotron, flute, and violin.
Reformed briefly in 1990, and then dormant again until 2004 only vocalist/guitarist David Surkamp remains from the original line up, but his quite unique love or hate vocal style (think a young emotive Geddy Lee with a distinctive warble, and on speed) was central to the band’s sound.
Since 2004 the band has been pretty active touring Europe, again with a revolving door of players with about half of the current line-up of David Surkamp (vocals, guitar), Abbie Steriling (violin, mandolin, vocals), Amanda McCoy (guitar, vocals), Manfred Plötz (drums), Rick Steiling (bass), Nathan Jatcko (keyboards), and Sara Surkamp (acoustic guitar, vocals) featured on the band’s fourth studio album Echo & Boo (2010).
Recorded in Nuremberg, Germany in October 2015 this rather nice DVD/2-CD set captures a stellar performance including the full 132 minute gig, featuring 24 songs from across the band’s catalogue, two songs from Surkamp’s 2007 solo album Dancing On The Edge Of A Teacup, one from his eighties band Hi-Fi, and three previously unreleased numbers.
Like most of his contemporaries, Surkamp’s vocal range has softened with the passing years and some might regard this as a not altogether a bad thing. But frankly, the very last thing you want is a ‘production line’ vocalist. Surkamp is anything but – a ‘one off’, and his passion remains unabated by the passing years. It makes you wonder whether – if his youthful vocals had worn the aged tones he now wears – Pavlov’s Dog might not have reached a wider audience.
I have to admit to this being my first encounter with any generation of the band. To my ageing ears, there’s a distinctive Mott vibe to parts of the set, to Cockney Rebel in the violin work, and Roger Hodgson in elements of the vocals, but the reality is these bands will have been influenced by Pavlov’s Dog, rather than vice versa. In particular, I was struck by the wonderfully organic nature of the set.
The quality playing and singing here, and a ‘period’ authenticity rarely encountered, add up to a single word – ‘mesmeric’. In a recent review Alan Jones said he felt in the presence of greatness. I felt the same way when I saw Andy Latimer/Camel back in 2013. It only happens rarely, but this is another.
In hands like Surkamp’s the spirit of prog remains alive and kicking. Pup? Not a chance. Mongrel? No way. Pedigree? Best in class. In the presence of greatness? Unquestionably. Everyone with a love of the genre would be highly advised to give this marvellous release a watch / listen. *****
Review by Pete Whalley
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