A Celebrity Upstages The Music
by Neil Strauss
A slice of Los Angeles came to New York on Wednesday night at Irving Plaza. On the bandstand was Dog Star, featuring Keanu Reeves. Yes, that Keanu Reeves. When Hollywood stars like River Phoenix, Johnny Depp and Lou Diamond Phillips have dabbled in rock-and-roll, their bands haven't performed much outside of the nurturing environment of Los Angeles clubs with velvet ropes. But Dog Star has taken itself seriously enough to embark on a small tour of the country and to start looking for record labels to make a deal.
Mr. Reeves's role in Dog Star is an expendable one. He played simple but competent basslines as the band thrashed out punk- and grunge-friendly pop songs. Since Mr. Reeves is a celebrity who values versatility -- he is an action hero; he is a romantic lead; he plays hockey; he rides motorcycles; he even recently took the title role in a production of "Hamlet" -- it's doubtful he could give the band the commitment they would need if they signed a recording contract. Musically, Dog Star wouldn't be any worse without him. But visually, that's another story.
Those in the front rows of the sold-out house hardly seemed to move to the music, preferring instead to stare raptly at Mr. Reeves, who modestly stared at the ground as he picked at his strings like a factotum (through he must be commended for playing Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" with a bra, thrown onstage by an excited audience member, hanging from his arm). Occasionally the band, in which Mr. Reeves has been playing for three and a half years, broke down to allow one of the scruffy star's basslines to stand out, drawing large cheers from the crowd.
Though every member of the quartet sang several songs, Mr. Reeves added vocals only to one, "Isabelle." After taking center stage (and forgetting to sing directly into the microphone), he was struck by a sudden burst of showmanship, and he started rolling around the ground on his back playing bass. Otherwise, Dog Star was a case of a decent punk-pop band (which would fit right into the 1 A.M. slot on Thursdays at CBGB) getting upstaged by its bassist. After all, the crowd was chanting "Keanu" in hopes of an encore, not "Dog Star." But maybe if the audience had the opportunity to hear a song or two by the band (which hasn't released any music) before Wednesday night, a few of them would have been chanting "Dog Star."