DR. KEN JONES/FILE
Looking for evidence that Dopapod feels very comfortable onstage at the Sinclair? Check out the set list for the concluding night of the Boston-spawned jam band’s three-show run there last April. The entire second set is occupied by a 55-minute rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.”
“When you’re in the town where you started the band, and there’s people there that you know and love and maybe haven’t seen in a long time,” says guitarist Rob Compa, 29, “it just felt right for something special to happen. And we took a lot of chances because I think we felt like the people there were rooting for us. Because of that, I think we were a little more fearless.”
As it did last year, Dopapod will again wrap up a spring tour with three nights in Cambridge, playing the Sinclair Thursday through Saturday. This visit comes on the heels of a breakthrough year that saw the band, which first assembled at Berklee College of Music, reach a series of heady milestones.
It played its first West Coast shows (aside from a previous visit to the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, Calif.). In a pinch-me moment, the group played Red Rocks Amphitheatre in July, opening for the String Cheese Incident — one of the most popular groups of the jam-band era — on that band’s home turf of Colorado. And Dopapod’s first appearance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival offered a euphoric seal of approval.
“We didn’t know what to expect, then we get onstage and there’s like 10,000 people chanting our name, which was really surreal — I don’t know who they were,” says bassist Chuck Jones, 28, who like his bandmate is speaking on the phone before a show in North Carolina. “The tent was packed from wall to wall, with people lined up outside, and everyone was chanting for us. It was kind of unbelievable.”
The first steps toward that moment happened when Jones met keyboardist Eli Winderman, who nowadays is the group’s busiest songwriter, in a summer program at Berklee before they started classes full-time. In time they assembled with Compa as Dopapod, originally with Neal Evans on drums. (Scotty Zwang now sits in that chair.)
A formative moment came in 2009 when Dopapod landed a spot on a compilation put out by the in-house Berklee label Jazz Revelation Records. Paced by Winderman’s organ, the track drips with influence from funk-infused Berklee predecessors like Lettuce. Since then, Dopapod’s sound has grown more cosmic, reflecting many of the influences common in the scene: classic rock, jazz, EDM, some splashes of reggae.
By 2010, Compa says, the band went on the road full-time, and has seldom paused for breath. After a cathartic New Year’s Eve show at the Palladium in Worcester last year (followed by a late-night, post-Phish show at New York City’s Gramercy Theatre two nights later), the group got some enforced down time by scheduling a three-month break. They spent half of it working on new material.
“This was easily the longest amount of time that we hadn’t played a gig together,” Compa says. “It was definitely what we needed. But by the end of it, I was like, I can’t wait to go on tour.”
A handful of new songs emerged and have gotten a workout on the present tour, which is organized around a series of multi-night stands. Beginning with three shows in Denver, it’s included back-to-back shows in Columbus, Ohio, and Asheville, N.C., with a weekend stay in Philadelphia preceding the Cambridge three-fer.
Settling in at a venue gives the group a more open hand to improvise, aware that its jam-hungry fans are seeking a unique live experience each night. Only one song was repeated during last year’s run at the Sinclair — not including in-show reprises.
So back to that “Echoes.”
It tracks closely to Pink Floyd’s studio version (which, for those scoring at home, clocks in at 23½ minutes) for about 18 minutes, before wandering off into Dopapod land. There’s a full half-hour of improvisation before the tune’s hazy, enveloping groove returns to close things out. Far from the series of solos over a vamp that a less-accomplished group might attempt, the jam moves through several phases reflecting the different colors of the band’s sound, with a sense of purpose and intent throughout.
It’s the sound of a band feeling comfortable, and confident its fans are ready for anything.
“Being in front of that audience and being at home, we feel very, very free to put on the show we want to,” Jones says. “If you’re doing one set in a city you only play once or twice a year, playing a set-long ‘Echoes’ probably wouldn’t happen. But when you’re at your home base, and it’s the sixth set you’ve done, we can get away with doing something like that.”
At the Sinclair, Cambridge, April 28-30. Tickets: $20, advance $18, three-show pass $50. 617-547-5200, www.sinclaircambridge.com
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