July 1, 2009
Better Than: Karaoke.
Last night, Deer Tick started its mellow set with a slow crescendo that climaxed in a stage dive. "We're doing things a little differently tonight," declared handlebar mustachioed lead singer John McCauley, before launching into the first song.
The Providence, Rhode Island-based band opened its nearly two-hour long set with a few songs from its latest album, Born on Flag Day, which is in its first month of release. The audience bobbed--and some even sang--along to the new songs, but when the band hit "Ashamed" from Deer Tick's previous record, War Elephant, the fans went a little crazy. Nearly everyone sang along. Clearly this was a crowd of veteran Deer Tick listeners.
Although the group played plenty of old and new material, its set was at least fifty percent covers, including songs by George Thoroughgood, Hank Williams, John Mellencamp, and a creative, almost a cappella rendition of the Rolling Stones', "Dead Flowers," during which the four band members gathered around the mic in a cozy circle. In addition to these homages, Deer Tick also played a host of teaser covers between songs, which included sound bites from Mariah Carey, Dave Matthews, and Nirvana. To be fair, McCauley acknowledged the band might be overdoing it on other people's material. Luckily Deer Tick had enough stamina to play MTV's greatest hits and get the most of its own songs in there as well.
The self-declared "bunch of knuckleheads" also happen to be a bunch of very talented musicians. Their sound is eclectic, ranging from upbeat rock to country, leaning towards both the jazzy and just plain sleazy (case in point: "Stay the Night," was preceded by a sultry, slightly pornographic intro). For the most part, band members stuck to their instruments, although the bass player jumped between stand-up and electric, proving mastery of both.
McCauley made casual bar stool conversation with the audience between songs, sipping from a koozied beer while he tuned and retuned his guitar. He took the stage solo for two songs, including "Song About a Man" from the new album, his raspy Dylan-esque delivery accompanied by the requisite Dylan-esque harmonica. (That raspy voice got so hoarse at one point that McCauley was forced to stop entirely and announce that he'd probably have to choose between smoking or singing.)
The front man managed to fire-up an already energetic crowd with his invitations of rowdiness: "the more you misbehave, the more songs we play," he declared near the end. The band brought audience participation to a new level when it invited crowd-members on stage for a grand finale cover of Tom Petty's, "Breakdown." Ten fans who claimed to know the lyrics hopped on stage and stayed when the band continued with a much-requested follow-up song, "Standing at the Threshold." McCauley then reversed the flow to the stage by taking a wary stage-dive into the audience's arms after Deer Tick's encore -- a quick and dirty cover of "La Bamba."
Opening band, Dawes, may have had fewer crazy antics during its set than the headliner, but the group certainly had the crowd's attention. This is the kind of band that would've probably played with just as much enthusiasm if the members were performing for a pile of rocks -- it was clear they dug the music. And so did the audience, who watched intently as the lead singer displayed some of the greatest facial expressions ever known to rocking out. The bass player often sunk to his knees to dig into his long, rolling riffs, and Dawes' drummer was literally jumping out of his seat at times, pounding on the crash with his fist (which no doubt left him with some gnarly knuckles by the end of the set).
Dawes' sparse, thoughtful music was quite a contrast to the band that played before it, Dusty Rhodes and the River Band, who performed a short set of fist-pumping anthems led by a very energetic and charismatic front man on the keyboard.