Noise Pop: Follow those Dodos

They're awkward, endearing, and unique to their San Francisco habitat
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Photo by Brandon
Joseph Baker

kimberly@sfbg.com

Meric Long spent a year in chicken heaven or hell, depending on your feelings about charred fowl flesh. For about a year the Dodos vocalist-guitarist-trombonist chopped, baked, and tended as many as 80 signature roasted chickens per night as a line cook at San Francisco foodie institution Zuni Cafe — a day job so intense that plump, juicy birds haunted his dreams. "Whenever I start talking about the chickens, I can't shut up," he says ruefully now. "It just it ruled my life for a year!"

But honestly, despite those incursions into his REM-scape, Long feels more kinship with his band's namesake: the Dodo, that incredible, edible, yet now extinct white meat. "They were like chickens," he muses, sprawled sideways on a bench in Mission Creek Cafe on this warm California winter afternoon. The precision roasting of fowl seems far away on this fair day. "They were lonely, though."

"They wanted friends," drummer Logan Kroeber throws in. He's still shaken and a bit stirred thanks to a too-close-to-personal-extinction-for-comfort encounter between his skateboarding self and a car blasting down a nearby alley.

"And that's why they got killed off," Long continues. "They weren't used to visitors, and the English came and were hungry and ate 'em."

Still, it takes a lot of sly chutzpah to adopt the moniker of the highly uncool, not-so-beautiful loser of the animal kingdom. And though they'd never say so explicitly, Long and Kroeber are hoping, humbly, to do the clumsy waddlers proud by adapting and maybe even flourishing. Exhibit one: the Dodos' compelling second album, Visiter, scheduled to be released March 18 on Frenchkiss. Its 14 songs unfold in three rough parts, beginning with the toy piano invocations of road-weary, lovelorn musicians ("Red and Purple"), then rolling through noise-wracked folk drone ("Joe's Waltz"), wry, Magnetic Fields–style songcraft ("Winter"), and a ragtag country blues scented with the sun and sand of Led Zeppelin and West African drumming ("Paint the Rust"). A significant evolution from Long's time as a solo acoustic act and from the Dodos' self-released debut, Beware of the Maniacs (2006), Visiter is startlingly deep and likely to hold up under repeated plays, catching the listener on the tenterhooks of Long's insinuating melodies.

So it's funny, then, to think that Long first dubbed his solo folk act Dodobird because he felt like such a slow goer and has now firmly found his voice with Kroeber and the Dodos. "To be honest, I think back then I used to have a fear that I was kind of unintelligent, like I was really dumb but didn't know it," Long says bashfully. "I don't know if I should say it. But I think it had to do with partying too much when I was younger and completely fucking my brain. I also think there's this plane of understanding that other people seem to be on and I'm still kind of out of the loop on."

As usual, Kroeber jumps into the conversation, to watch his bud's back, because seriously, dude, in his opinion, Long is nothing like the dazed and confused kids he grew up with down south: "A lot of people can sort of deflect that with 'You're thinking too much, man! Keep it simple! Positive vibes!' You know, that sort of brick-by-brick, build your weed cabin." Kroeber nods sagely. "I grew up in Santa Cruz — it's a historical place for weed-cabin building."

The Dodos found their endearingly clumsy footing far from the happy yet isoutf8g metaphorical grassy isles of yesteryear. After moving from his hometown of Lafayette, Long had been playing solo around town — occasionally as Mix Tape with vocalist Brigid Dawson of the Ohsees — when Kroeber's cousin introduced the guitarist to the drummer two years ago.

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