Prior to this weekend’s show in Cleveland, Dopapod will have been flying across Midwestern highways en route from the exotic locales of Lawrence, Kansas; Columbia, Missouri; Omaha, Nebraska. At each of those three shows, the Brooklyn-based band performed multifaceted two-set shows that flashed signs of brilliance from points old and new within their tenure as one of the jam scene’s brightest and most thrilling groups on the road these days.
It’s simple math, really; people like good grooves and thoughtful improv, so dedicated musicians like the guys in Dopapod — keyboard player and singer Eli Winderman, guitarist and singer Rob Compa, bassist Chuck Jones and drummer Scotty Zwang — tend to thrive once they get out there and start slaying some shows.
We spoke with Winderman even earlier in the band’s spring tour, when they were in Houston.
“I guess it’s kinda like in some areas of the county we do have that renown,” Winderman says, pointing to the Northeast in particular. “In other parts of the county, we’re still building it.”
And with a 2014 that included some 130-plus dates across the U.S. and a 2015 intimating that and then some, there’s no chance the band is slowing down anytime soon. They’ve reached that tipping point and leapt over — that point where young bands must decide how much to gamble on the future.
Winderman, Compa and Jones met at Berklee, performing in several bands around the Boston area for four years before branching out together. At the time, Neil “Fro” Evans was playing drums for the band (he’s since left to focus on Elephant Wrecking Ball). Drummer Scotty Zwang, who joined the band about a year and a half ago, has helped expand the band’s rhythmic boundaries.
At first, Dopapod ran the regional touring circuit by hitching onto other bands’ gigs and performing an opening set. This was right in the throes of a collective fascination with the bands’ blends of classic jam band tenets and more progressive, electronic instrumentation. Small festival slots opened up early on, and then a touring agent was brought onboard to book near-constant shows. In 2011 or so, the guys noticed the crowds were getting bigger and fans were becoming more fervent.
“The first time that we sold out The Middle East Downstairs in Boston, we were like, ‘Whoa. Something’s happening. This is crazy,’” Winderman says. “And that was so long ago, it’s funny to think about. That isn’t even that huge of a show for us now. There were all these people outside that couldn’t even get in — it was crazy. That was probably when we were like, ‘This is happening. Let’s do it.’”
And they did. Since then, the band’s purview has only broadened and deepened, bringing their live show to further-flung corners of the U.S. (see Lawrence, Columbia, Omaha, all of which are available on the band’s website) and to newcomer fans more hellbent on expansive improvisational music. They’ve connected with bands similar in sound and vibe, like Aqueous and our very own Broccoli Samurai. They themselves have opened for Umphrey’s McGee and, as of later this year, the String Cheese Incident.
This current tour has seen awesome versions of the tunes from their most recent album, last fall’s Never Odd or Even. The Columbia showed (embedded below) closed with an excellent take on “FABA,” one of the band’s favorite tunes to play. “It’s probably our most popular song in general,” Winderman says. “It’s just got that really uplifting quality to it. It really seems to resonate with people.”
“FABA” is a great example for what Dopapod does best: It’s an instrumental tune that weaves through multiple movements, guided by thumping bass and Winderman’s flanged-out synth melody. The song lands on a crushing, borderline-metal riff. It’s impossible to resist dancing, and that’s the whole point.
On the last album, the band was aiming for a more cohesive, song-based form. That comes through in “FABA,” surely, but other tunes like “Present Ghosts” and “Sleeping Giant” bring out the lyrical imagery that the band is working with these days. The former is the opening track off Never Odd or Even, with its quirky guitar-keys intro giving way to a laid-back verse. The build in the song is tremendous, and clearly shows how the band has been paying attention to contrast and dynamics in their songwriting.
Over the past two years, the band has moved away somewhat from the prog sound and toward composition that includes rhythmic hooks, refrains and windows to open-ended improvisation: perfect ingredients for more of a party atmosphere during the band’s live shows.
Still, a lot of the material that showed up on earlier albums still populates setlists (“Onionhead” and “French Bowling,” particularly, catching a lot of attention in recent shows). With an ethos grounded in open-ended improvisation, there’s always the chance to reroute older material into newer, fresher horizons. That’s certainly been the case throughout all of the band’s recent tours.
Never Odd or Even was most definitely a move toward a different type of Dopapod, a bellwether that should inspire fans across the board. The album carries the mood of great American freeways, the places where the band hones its craft — more often, anyway, than even their spot in Brooklyn. More than five years in now, it’s clear that the band has high aspirations and no desire to rest on their laurels or anything.
“All of my favorite artists have always done that — constantly reinventing themselves. I think that’s because they’re actually staying true to themselves as artists. If you just keep repeating whatever made you popular, it just gets really boring.”
With Broccoli Samurai
9 p.m., Saturday, April 11, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $12 ADV, $15 DOS, beachlandballroom.com