CAMBRIDGE -- The City of Brotherly Love exported three of its liveliest groups to the Middle East Upstairs Thursday night, and the disparate trio proved that showmanship is more about attitude and energy -- and facial hair, apparently -- than video screens and volume.
The night began with the fervent roots pop of Hoots and Hellmouth . The quartet managed to make a righteous, old-timey racket with two acoustic guitars, mandolin, upright bass, and ragged harmonies. The Hoots' blend of alt-country, rock, and gospel was amplified only by their own considerable joy and the physical way they threw themselves into singing.
The rickety guitar stomps and simplistic heartbroken howls of garage rockers the Teeth were more standard issue in terms of style, but they matched and then exceeded their predecessors' sense of abandon and good humor.
By the time headliners Dr. Dog took the stage to deliver their heated rejiggerings of classic pop constructions, the pump was significantly primed for the sold-out crowd, which grew so animated you could feel the floorboards tremble with each bounce.
The first hint at the quintet's skewed vision came with the intro music. The discomfiting Beach Boys-meets-Pavement rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" fed nicely into what followed as Dr. Dog consistently took familiar sounds -- dreamy harmony vocals, predictable chord progressions -- and paired them with odd time changes and lyrics that ranged from comic to warped to wounded.
Half the fun of the performance came from the grand way that bassist-singer Toby Leaman , guitarist-singer Scott McMicken , and their cohorts leapt about as they played tunes like the strutting rocker "Worst Trip" and the loping ballad "Ain't It Strange" from their sophomore album, "We All Belong."
While the band's influences bled through with regularity -- a crumb from Cracker here, a flash of the Band there, who doesn't love the Beatles?, a bit of Wilco there -- this rarely detracted from the upbeat mood.
The members of a ll three bands sported a serious degree and variety of facial hair, from a hint of five o'clock shadow to '70s porn star mustaches to full-on mountain man beards. The shaggy look somehow fit the night's retro yet vibrant sensibility.