Keanu Reeves band Dogstar draws thousands to rare Canadian show in Niagara Falls
Published October 6, 2023 at 12:35 pm
Somewhere between the Horseshoe Falls and Queen Elizabeth Way, an alternative rock band with a world-famous, Toronto-raised member brought its tour to Canada for the first time in more than 20 years.
On the street and inside Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, a few groups of visitors chatted about “John Wick” being in town.
Hollywood actor, writer and entrepreneur Keanu Reeves, 59, plays bass for the newly reunited Dogstar. Bret Domrose, 54, is the vocalist and guitarist, and Rob Mailhouse, 61, is the drummer.
While it opened for Bon Jovi, David Bowie and Weezer in its early days, the Los Angeles-based Dogstar has come a long way from being a garage band that was once described as “mediocre” and reportedly had to dodge fruit thrown by an unhappy crowd during the Glastonbury Festival in England in 1999. Though it isn’t a stadium band, Dogstar performed a nearly sold-out concert at the OLG Stage on Wednesday (Oct. 4). The venue has a capacity of 5,000. It was Dogstar’s first show ever in Niagara Falls, part of its headline tour that started in August and ends in late December. Before this year’s tour, Dogstar had last performed on stage in 2003.
Domrose, vocalist and guitarist, told concertgoers during the Niagara Falls show on Wednesday that the band didn’t even know themselves when they last played in Canada, which may have been in Vancouver in 1997. Dogstar had broken up in the early aughts, but the members (who are close friends) still played on their own or together for the love of music.
The band returned to the studio last summer to record its third album — its first in 23 years. Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees is out today (Oct. 6) through Dogstar’s own label Dillon Street Records.
“This time around it just seems like a lot more love (for the band). I don’t know whether it’s deserved or not, but I feel that and it’s appreciated,” Mailhouse recently told entertainment industry magazine Variety.
Dogstar’s publicist told insauga.com through Fallsview Casino’s communications team that the band’s schedule was already “fully committed” so it could not provide comments or do interviews.
The Niagara Falls show is one of Dogstar’s only two tour stops in Canada this year. The Toronto show on Dec. 9 at Lee’s Palace is sold out, though people can join a waitlist.
Singer gushes over touring Niagara Falls
For many Dogstar fans, the presence of Reeves magnified the band’s cool factor. The Toronto-raised, A-list celebrity is known for his leading roles in the blockbuster films John Wick, The Matrix, Speed, Point Break, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Reeves has also done a variety of projects beyond films and TV, including co-writing a comic book series called BRZRKR and a few books titled Ode to Happiness and Shadows, as well as co-founding his custom motorcycle company Arch Motorcycle.
Outside of the band, Domrose works as a music composer for film and stage in Los Angeles, and Mailhouse is an actor.
Domrose did most of the talking during the concert. Before Dogstar played a new song it didn’t record yet called “This Is What Math Is For,” he told fans he had a few free hours before the show to tour Niagara Falls.
“I walked around your beautiful city and saw Niagara Falls for the first time. It blew my damn mind,” he said. “You hear about it and then you see it. That’s two different things I think.”
From the upbeat and catchy “Everything Turns Around” and the uptempo “Breach” to the haunting love song “Glimmer,” Dogstar played over a dozen songs during the one-hour show. Amid the pulsing red, blue, yellow and white stage lights, fans showed their admiration for Dogstar and especially its famous bassist, such as a woman dancing at the front row wearing a dress adorned with the falling green code from The Matrix and a fan that brought a life-sized cardboard cutout of Reeves in his suit from John Wick, the blockbuster movie franchise about the “retired” assassin.
Mailhouse is credited with coming up with Dogstar’s name, which comes from American writer Henry Miller’s book Sexus. A steamy passage referred to Dog Star, the second brightest star in the sky (the sun is the brightest) in the Canis Major constellation.
Although the band has often attracted the spotlight because of its celebrity bassist, Reeves didn’t take the mic to speak to the crowd during the show. Clad in a T-shirt and jeans like the rest of the band, he played his blue and black bass guitar, his head down and his dark shoulder-length hair flowing as he swayed, bobbed his head and tapped his foot. Domrose and Mailhouse similarly seemed to be deep in a trance when making their music.
Reeves acknowledged fans by pointing to them, handing over and tossing what appeared to be a few guitar picks to fans, as well as clapping in appreciation of the audience, putting both hands on his chest and waving in gratitude at the end of the show. Mailhouse, the drummer, waved, made a heart sign with his hands and ran over to a fan closest to the stage to give her the set list at the end of the show.
“Look at you guys, thank you so much for coming,” Domrose said at the end, with his right hand over his heart, as the crowd screamed. “Good night, you guys. We’ll see you in Toronto in December.”
Dogstar releases first album in 23 years
The band describes its music as something that doesn’t fit inside the box, calling it “pop-aggressive.”
“This is who we are now,” Reeves said in a recent Spin magazine article about Dogstar’s new music, which he described as a combination of genres — indie pop rock folk. “Individually, none of us would write a Dogstar song, but collectively, with who we are as artists and who we are, when we all come together and start to make music together…the sum of the parts is Dogstar.”
In an Instagram post last year, Mailhouse praised music producer Dave Trumfio and engineer Ruddy Lee Cullers for helping Dogstar “create a deep, layered, lush record that has us all in awe of their talents.” The group headed back to the studio to record its album in the summer of 2022.
The drummer mentioned that during the album’s recording, Dogstar was honoured to borrow the guitars once used by the late acclaimed singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, who was known for his melancholic music.
‘Even if Keanu is not in the band, I will want to watch them’
Diana Faustino, 23, of Toronto, said she was at the concert both for the music and Reeves. Faustino said she’s a huge fan of music and collects CDs, especially indie rock.
“Even if Keanu is not in the band, I will want to watch them,” she told insauga.com just before the opening act Archer Oh from California — a “surfy indie garage band” — took the stage. “I like going to concerts in general and finding new music. … I like music so much that it’s an integral part of my life. I am here equally for both things.”
She first heard about Dogstar in 2019 because Reeves is one of her favourite actors.
“I was born after the band got really big and really want to take the opportunity to see them live,” she said. “Their soundtrack is really amazing. … They’re on heavy rotation.”
Faustino said when she got the VIP tickets and met the band at the soundcheck several hours before the show, Reeves told her he had noticed her sweater, which was from his company Arch Motorcycle. “I am still in disbelief about the whole thing,” she said. “I was speechless of meeting all of them because they were so kind.”
Reeves, who has been dubbed “the internet’s boyfriend” because of his reputation for being kind, was born in Beirut, Lebanon, raised in Toronto and moved to Los Angeles in his early 20s to pursue an acting career. He is still a Canadian citizen though he has lived in California for most of his life.
For Dogstar, music isn’t just a hobby though it started as one. The band originally formed in 1991 after Reeves met Mailhouse at a supermarket and they became fast friends, bonding over hockey and music. Domrose joined the group in 1994. Gregg Miller was originally the vocalist and guitarist. The band said in recent interviews that this tour in the United States, Japan and Canada and its new album, Somewhere Between the Power Lines and the Palm Trees, aren’t its swan song.
“We want to make another record. We wanna get in the studio, we wanna tour, we wanna play, we wanna travel, we wanna have great shows and have people have a really good time,” Reeves recently told Variety, the entertainment industry magazine.
Dogstar meets fans during VIP event
Before the show, nearly 100 people paid $359.75 each for VIP tickets to meet the band, get their VIP passes signed and listen to several songs during soundcheck. The Dogstar trio entered the stage, greeted with cheers and screams, including one fan who yelled: “Welcome home, Keanu!”
When the band asked for song requests, one fan yelled out “Honesty Anyway,” one of its older songs from the 1990s. The band opted to go with its new material, including “Lily” and its freshly composed song “This Is What Math Is For.”
Staff at the venue asked fans to only shake band members’ hands (joking another staffer would be available instead at a kissing booth). Fans were told to keep the line going after Reeves, Mailhouse and Domrose signed their VIP passes. Fans weren’t allowed to use their cameras or recording devices at the meet-and-greet event. A security guard also took any gifts beforehand, saying he would deliver them to the members in their dressing rooms – “there were lots and lots of them,” he said about the gifts.
Reeves was flanked by Mailhouse and Domrose as people took turns greeting them and getting their autographs. Divided into groups of six, fans got their photos taken with the band by a professional photographer.
Fans bond over star’s movies, music
Elizabeth, 46, of Hamilton said she has been a fan of Reeves since she was in her early 20s. Though she’s new to Dogstar’s music, she said: “I think they’re really good. I like how they’re alternative pop.”
As part of the VIP ticket group, she also met Reeves. When it was her turn to meet him, she said she thanked him for donating to hospitals for research and he didn’t know what to say in response to her compliments. “It makes a huge difference for workers and patients,” she said.
Judy Radmore said she often goes to concerts and couldn’t pass up the chance to see her favourite actor. She admits to having a longtime crush on Reeves since his early movies in the 1980s. The 72-year-old from Brampton brought her reluctant husband to the show.
Radmore said among her favourite movies are all the John Wick and Constantine films. Attending her first Dogstar concert was “excellent,” she told insauga.com just before Dogstar hit the stage.
“He’s really good. I like them all,” she said, noting she enjoyed the folksy music. “I like to have fun when I go out.”
Radmore, who met Reeves during the VIP soundcheck event, said she shook his hand and greeted him. “It was awesome!”
For two American siblings, the show was a chance to celebrate. Ana Songin, 36, of Buffalo said she bought the VIP tickets for the Niagara Falls show as a gift for her brother. She and her 33-year-old brother bonded over Reeves’s movies over the years. She herself has been watching his movies since she was two years old and saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Songin was also at the show for the “musical experience.”
“I’m just glad they are making music again,” she told insauga.com. “Keanu’s amazing and multitalented. He’s just the nicest human being alive. He is just a normal person. He does not let success get to his head.”insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising