Chris Ryan, Ian O'Neil, John McCauley, Robbie Crowell and Dennis Ryan of Deer Tick (Anna Webber)
“Thank you all for skipping Eminem and Rihanna tonight in favor of the second-best show happening in L.A.,” joked guitarist/vocalist Ian O’Neil, causing Deer Tick frontman, John McCauley’s, face to break into a huge grin.
Only a few in the packed venue hooted and hollered their disagreement with O’Neil’s statement, as I’m positive many weren’t even aware of the Monster Tour being in Pasadena last night. Deer Tick’s appearance at the Echoplex was the only place they had planned on being since the tour date was announced in May. The crowd’s anticipation was rewarded with an hour and a half of full of dynamic energy from the Rhode Island-based quintet.
McCauley had the crowd from the opening song, with the initial notes of “The Rock” emerging as a hushed love plea then exploding into a crescendo of sonic goodness. The song was the first of several from their latest album, last fall’s Negativity, to be performed. Although the work carries a name that reflects the dark days surrounding McCauley at the time it was penned (his father being sent to prison, a broken engagement), Deer Tick’s delivery of tracks like “Mr. Sticks” and “Trash” – which are both lyrically telling of McCauley’s emotional state at the Negativity‘s creation – was anything but depressing or somber.
In fact, the atmosphere was quite rambunctious, instigated by McCauley’s proclaiming that it was “time for a drinking song,” taking a swig from his beer, spitting it into the air and kicking into “Let’s All Go to the Bar.” Those in front of the stage replied in kind by throwing empty beer cans (and a few crowd surfers) into the air. The group continued to rock the crowd with an old rock ‘n’ roll ditty, “Rocket in My Pocket,” before drummer Dennis Ryan – whom McCauley referred to as “our element of surprise” – took the reins on lead vocals for “Clownin’ Around,” a song from 2011’s highly acclaimed Divine Providence.
The performance of this track, as well as that of “Thyme,” was reminiscent of the Band, in that Deer Tick’s members – that also include bassist Chris Ryan and keyboardist/saxophonist/vocalist Rob Crowell – are not only master technicians on their respective instruments but each singer in the group could front any band as lead vocalists in their own right. Crowell’s prowess on the keys was downright fierce and really shined during “Little White Lies,” off the band’s sophomore effort, Born on Flag Day.
McCauley awarded a raffle-winning fan with a “bag of money” ($320 in gift cards for a fast-food chain) and a “Congratulations, you just won a ton of diarrhea.” Then, the evening’s opening act, T. Hardy Morris, joined Deer Tick for a few songs that included Morris’ “Heavy Petting.” Morris shared that the track had a role in bringing McCauley and him together several years ago and led to the formation of their Diamond Rugs project with Crowell, the Black Lips’ Ian Saint Pé, Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin and Six Finger Satellite’s Bryan Dufresne. Morris’ affable chemistry with the Tick was evident as they laughed and had fun doing a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Getting’ By, High and Strange.”
Deer Tick paid tribute to another musical legend with their version of Lou Reed’s “Hangin’ Round.” O’Neil totally lost himself in the song, flailing his body around and shrieking out the chorus. The band also showed their bluesy side with “The Bump,” as well as their jazz inclinations in the wall of sound created in “Easy.” The audience matched McCauley’s shouts of “That son of a bitch crossed me once, but he won’t cross me twice,” word for word, bringing the main set to a close.
After a few moments, McCauley returned to the stage alone to begin an encore that brought satisfaction to longtime fans since it was full of songs off Deer Tick’s 2007 debut, War Elephant – save for a rendition of Santo & Johnny’s classic instrumental piece, “Sleep Walk.” The band’s primary singer-songwriter performed a moving intro to “Not So Dense” before the rest of the band joined him to complete the tune; by the end, more than one crowd surfer catapulted into the air. This fittingly resulted in one audience member at the front of the stage waving an abandoned shoe in the air during “These Old Shoes.”
Once “Ashamed”‘s gorgeous guitar intro began, the crowd clapped its approval. Yet, there was a bit of sadness in the air, since most knew the song marked the end of the band’s set. It was a beautiful moment, full of fans singing along with the chorus, couples dancing – such “a crying shame” that the night ever had to end.
Second-best show of the night? Yeah right, Deer Tick.