Before yesterday evening, I had been meaning to see Deer Tick for some time. Ever since I got my hands on their debut LP War Elephant, an album bursting with old-time folk-rock raucous energy, I had assumed they’d simply blow the roof off of any venue they hit. I was supposed to see them in Nashville this summer, but being under 21, I was not permitted into the show to which I was on the guest list for. This was certainly a setback in my short-term goal of seeing a band I quite enjoyed on record in a live setting. So, of course, being the kind of resilient guy that I am, I took heed of the next available opportunity to catch the group live. I made my way from Skidmore College to the New York’s lovely city of Troy to watch Deer Tick put on a show that more than made up for the one I didn’t get to see in Nashville over the summer.
Not only did Deer Tick play what felt like 30 something songs, but they performed with opener Jonny Corndawg as his backing band. Essentially, Deer Tick played three solid hours of music, whether it was the hilarious country rock of Jonny Corndawg, some sweet covers, or their own tunes. As backing band for Corndawg, the guys provided killer support for one of the stranger performers I have ever encountered. The guy was simply a living joke, but nonetheless, as entertaining as they come. His quirky, decisively awkward, country tinged rock was what would happen if Townes Van Zandt and Jason Molina had ghostwriters with Aspergers syndrome. And I mean that only as a compliment. His voice was pleasant, and his guitar playing even more so. His lyrics, however, were beyond ridiculous. One of his songs was about a “lady in a bar” or as he added, “all of you” and was just straight up about cunnilingus. Another was about playing “ball with” a woman’s son at the “YMCA” which also featured a falsetto delivery of the words “smoking marijuana.” Another featured the chorus “Exercise to keep your body healthy.” So, basically, this guy was amazing. When his set was over, he graciously thanked Deer Tick: “Thank you Mr. Deer Ticks.” But that was just the beginning of the night’s laid back, hilarity.
Prior to the show, I had heard all sorts of things about John McCauley. For one, he has a reputation for perpetually being in an altered state, making each show different and equally ridiculous. After last night’s performance, one thing about McCauley was made perfectly clear. He doesn’t give a fuck. He drinks Jack Daniels from the bottle onstage. He laughs at himself. He takes breaks before songs for onstage “band meetings.” You get the picture. Now of course, he gives a decent amount of fuck, otherwise he wouldn’t perform so damn well, or sing with such passionate snarls. But, he clearly doesn’t act like he’s got much to lose while he’s performing.
This being said, there were many firsts at last night’s performance. Before last night, I had never heard “La Bamba” played by any band other than at a Bar Mitzvah. I had also never heard “Piano Man” used as a segway into another song. Before I saw Deer Tick, I had never heard a victim of Pitchfork’s wrath openly address their disappointment: “We’re releasing a new EP in December. We’re gonna call it Fuel for the Fire, so Pitchfork can burn us again . . . I’m sure they will.” But, it doesn’t end there. Before this show, I had never watched a band return for an encore, to hear their frontman say “Whoah, I think I just had an acid flashback when I walked back on the stage.” No, no, no, these are things that you pretty much only get at a show as awesomely fun as a Deer Tick show.
In your typical show review, the band’s setlist usually follows the written portion of the criticism, allowing readers to glance at what songs were played, the names of songs which they may not have recognized, etc. Here I think it only appropriate to present it at this juncture, so that you may get a grasp on just how long, how fun, and how all over the place a Deer Tick show can be.
Here’s the setlist (from my notes and some research)…
Opening solo John Medley:
Sam Stone (John Prine Cover)
Diamond Rings 2007
Time Marches On (Tracy Lawrence Cover)
Little White Lies
2 or 3 Songs from new EP Fuel for the Fire – “So Pitchfork can burn us again”:
Dances in Love?
Can’t Hardly Wait (Replacements Cover)
Holidays in the Sun (Sex Pistols Cover)
Guitarist solo song
Maybelline (Chuck Berry Cover)
Song About a Man (Piano man intro and outro)
Blues song about shotguns
If you don’t get the picture yet, Deer Tick did whatever the hell they wanted for 27 songs. They played “La Bamba” for Christ’s sake. John McCauley mocked piano man with a harmonica, because he could. But, really, the way in which Deer Tick went about this, was pure genius. The covers all fit in perfectly with their own songs. It was clear when they were making fun of themselves and when they were being serious, and none of it was excessive.
Opening with a lovely John Prine song which lapsed into the gorgeous “Diamond Rings 2007” and back into another cover was perfect. The solo electric guitar performance that started off the set more than aptly displayed McCauley’s beautiful, raspy pipes, his knowledge of folk and country, and his subtle guitar work. From then on, the band came out and simply plowed through the short Deer Tick discography, managing to squeeze in a few amazing covers in the process. One such cover was of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which captured the original’s charm and energy, but definitely felt Deer Ticky. A Sex Pistols cover also made its way in, feeling perfectly placed amidst the scattered set. The guys didn’t play their own songs verbatim either. Songs were slowed down, jam sessions ensued, drum solos divided songs into parts, etc. To be blunt, the band’s high and tight energy made disappointment an impossibility. And if the great music wasn’t enough to impress, the hilarious, inadvertent comedy onstage was. After all, what’s better than great music alongside drunken stage banter? Not much. Especially when Jonny Corndawg is involved.
As the band left the stage, McCauley thanked the audience, “Goodnight ladies. Goodnight gentlemen Goodnight anyone else who might be here” and carried his empty beer bottles and half filled Jack Daniels handle offstage. As far as the general mood of last night’s show, that about sums it up. In the words of Jonny Corndawg, thank you Mr. Deer Ticks. Thank you.
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