Deer Tick at Triple Rock Social Club, 11/12/11
Saturday night at the Triple Rock, the audience got to see something special. It was the sight of a band headed for greatness, right at the cusp of something bigger. It was palpable and it was obvious that Deer Tick knew it, too. They took the stage after about a 45 minute wait for which lead singer/guitarist John McCauley sheepishly apologized: "Sorry to keep you waiting, we kind of forgot what out responsibilities were," hinting that they maybe needed a couple of more beers to steel themselves for the sold-out crowd.
As McCauley and company ran through the first part of their set there was so much shouting of song titles from the crowd that McCauley was sort of forced to address it. "Not that one," he said. "That's coming," he continued, then finally, "Look, I'm having kind of a weird moment right now. I've consumed nothing but microwaveable sausage links, beer and vodka and Red Bull today--leave it alone."
Deer Tick get compared to Gram Parsons a lot and while that's a fair comparison (or maybe used to be considering the jagged thunder contained on their new Divine Providence) it's not exactly the same. Songs like "These Old Shoes" and "Art Isn't Real (City of Sin)" recall the Laurel Canyon sun, but it's like viewing that sun through a greasy, smoke-stained windshield. There's an almost overwhelming undercurrent of sadness that runs through those songs and it's stunningly beautiful. They also proved that while they are growing in marathon-sized increments between albums they are also incredibly versatile. They threw in a cover of the Replacements' "Bastards of Young" at one point (even nailing the collapsing-upon-itself ending) and pitched in Eddie Van Halen hammer-on guitar work here and there both elevating them as a band and setting them apart from the alt-country genre that everyone, including most of their fans, seem intent on filing them under. If there was any one occunence to point to in Saturday's set to illustrate that they have far more range and ambition than to simply be viewed as an alt-country band it was the 45 seconds or so in which they played the beginning of Local H's "Bound For the Floor." That song doesn't belong anywhere near alt-country, though it somehow fit perfectly into the set.
The songs for most the 80-minute set came rapid-fire, with little or no break between them and after awhile Deer Tick's real secret weapon became obvious: drummer and occasional vocalist Dennis Ryan, who adds an incredible amount of originality to the songs. In a band where he could just as easily sit back and play easy fills to keep rhythm for the five-man crew, he chose to make things complicated with tons of cymbals and unique arrangements throughout the set, even pitching in vocals on a couple of the songs. Deer Tick is McCauley's baby, to be sure, but Ryan is an indispensable part of it now.
The band left McCauley alone on stage for a spell toward the end of the set for the aforementioned "Art Isn't Real (City Of Sin)," "20 Miles," and a couple of others before returning to wrap things up and then blow the doors off the Triple Rock with as good an encore as I've been witness to. Opening with a ribcage-shattering version of Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice" (the boys are in good practice with that one, as they occasionally play as Deervana, a Nirvana cover band) and an extended 10-minute jam that may have been three songs or may have been just one long jam for it's own sake. It began with the intro to Black Sabbath's "N.I.B." and then spun out into who-knows-what. They had brought openers Guards out for it, everyone was jamming on something and spraying beer onto the crowd and then, in the final moments, McCauley unzipped, pulled out his manhood and played a couple of chords with it--a decidedly heavy metal ending to what was billed as an alt-country show, but somehow it all made perfect sense.
Critic's Bias: I had seen Deer Tick a few months ago and while I liked their set then, I wasn't floored by it like I was on Saturday.
The Crowd: Very young and mostly male, seemingly all of whom wanted to hear "Dirty Dishes" and little else.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I wonder if Deer Tick will sign my balls? It needs to happen."
Random Notebook Dump: The passage between genres during this set is so fluid it's incredible.