The Spin Doctors, along with Nirvana, the Dave Matthews Band and Green Day, were among the breakout bands of the ‘90s, but before the enormous commercial success of 1991’s Pocketful of Kryptonite, the Doctors were known around New York as a jamband that performed lengthy sets at the Wetlands Preserve and other throwback clubs.
Back in the days when album sales and MTV were the music industry’s metrics, it was common for acts that soared too close to the sun to fall from grace due to massive overexposure (see also “Blowfish, Hootie and the”). The Spin Doctors released followup albums and continued to tour, but personnel changes—most notably, the departure of guitarist Eric Schenkman in 1994—caused some of the early magic to fade. By the end of the decade, lead singer Chris Barron was suffering from a rare form of vocal paralysis that he feared might leave him speechless, and the Doctors were much pretty much relegated to “whatever became of” status.
Barron fortunately recovered, and when Wetlands Preserve announced it was closing in 2001, many of the bands that owed much of their success to their early appearances there came out in support. Barron and Schenkman reunited with their original mates, bassist Mark White and drummer Aaron Comess, and the Spin Doctors set out to recapture their groove.
The foursome has been at it ever since, perhaps a bit under the radar, although their recent show at Brooklyn Bowl packed the house with fans, old and new. Opening with “What Time Is It?” from Kryptonite, it was obvious that it was time to rock. Schenkman is a much underrated guitarist, the rhythm section is rock solid and Barron is, well, Barron, a showman with his own set of dance moves and signature over-the-top leg kick. Early into the set their monster hit “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” got everyone dancing, and songs like “Cleopatra’s Cat” and “Indifference” from their second album, Turn It Upside Down, were also welcome.
Barron shared a story from their earliest days on the bar scene when bands were expected to play nothing but blues. “We wanted to do original music,” he said, “so we wrote songs that sounded like blues standards and no one knew the difference.” Honoring that tradition, 2013’s If the River Was Whiskey is a collection of original blues tunes that caught many listeners off guard. In addition to the title track, “Traction Blues” and “About a Train” were on the set list before the band let loose with their other big hits, “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” and “Two Princes.”
The Spin Doctors are already well beyond their second act, but with the renewed energy they displayed at Brooklyn Bowl, it will be interesting to see where they go from here. “There aren’t many bands that started in the ‘80s and are still out here with the original members,” Barron said. “We’re just grateful to be here.” Clearly, their fans were as well.