Movie star Keanu Reeves plays bass, and he does so in an assiduous trio called Dogstar. He played very well, with determination and grit, in a recent performance the Howard Theatre in DC, where he said not a single word to the audience.
But that was okay. Keanu let frontman Bret Domrose be the frontman, and Reeves quietly yet magnetically allowed the music to carry him away while he played.
Let me pause for a moment and say that with any other review, I would have began with the observation that drummer Robert Mailhouse, another actor, grew in DC before departing for school in Connecticut and a career in Los Angeles. Robbie was clearly pleased to be in his hometown, saluting the sold-out room at the Howard Theatre at the end of the show and chatting with beaming admirers from the stage for a few moments afterward.
But you cannot ignore Reeves or his part in this dedicated rock band, and so we look at his part of the story. And the story goes that Keanu and Robert met in a grocery store and bonded over their love of hockey in 1991, and then formed Dogstar in 1992. They recruited two vocalists and guitarists, including Domrose, and the other departed the band after a 1995 tour.
Dogstar released their debut album Our Little Visionary in 1996, wearing their grunge influences on their sleeves. In 2000, they released Happy Ending, their sophomore album. They disbanded in 2002, and that may have been the end of the story if not for covid.
The three men always remained in touch, and during the COVID-19 lockdowns, they gathered to jam and write an album, which they released in October via their own Dillon Street Records — Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees. The ensuing Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees landed at the Howard Theatre in DC on Dec. 15, whereupon Bret Domrose revealed that the band have written unrecorded songs for yet another album and Dogstar played at least five of those new songs across a 19-song set. For my money, the unrecorded songs are their best yet and well worth checking out.
The Dogstar setlist was dominated by Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees, of course, with a presentation of all 12 tracks on the album. Bret, a congenial frontman, thanked the audience for their early support of the lead single, “Everything Turns Around,” which the band performed early in the show. The single is a lovely upbeat statement about how love adds color to a life.
Watch the official music video for “Everything Turns Around” by Dogstar on YouTube:
Dogstar performed no songs from their debut album and only “Halo” from their second. That said, they were really pleased to present “Halo,” which they did in a five-song encore. By time of the encore, the band were really loose and grinning ear-to-ear for an audience that was truly there to hear them and not just gawk at Keanu. (Let there be no doubt, however, that a fair number of female and male fans alike did indeed gawk at Keanu.)
The band opened their encore with a surprise cover of “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones, which amped up them and everyone else in the room. They performed several of their new songs in the cover, including “Lava Lamp,” “Shallow Easy,” and “Jackbox.” I considered these songs the best of the evening, and they sounded a bit like modern U2 with Bret sagely crooning and Keanu and Robert diligently rocking out.
More than 1,200 people turned up to watch Dogstar, and they hung on every song from opening number “Blonde” to closing number “Breach,” both hailing from Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees. The band had great energy, and Keanu appeared meditative throughout the show, clearly gaining a deep satisfaction from his part in the proceedings.
Dogstar remain on the road through a New Years Eve show in Napa, California, and they visit Europe next year. The gents are definitely back, and they are here to fulfill your desire for ’90s grunge rock with something to say.
Here are some photos of Dogstar performing at the Howard Theatre in DC on Dec. 15, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Nalinee Darmrong.