DAN JACOBSON reviews alt rock band Deer Tick’s performance at Islington Assembly Hall
Providence-based alternative rockers Deer Tick have always produced musical mosaics of their influences. They have long displayed admiration for Nirvana, including performing entire sets as the tribute act Deervana, and the heavy energy of their past discography, paired with stylish guitar solos, conjures the likes of The Replacements and Led Zeppelin. However, despite this variety, their music often sounds like odes to individual acts, with only a few songs effectively combining the themes that they have explored in the past.
One genre they have always claimed to not engage with is country music, saying in Performer Magazine that they are “proud not to sing with a twang”. In contrast, on their 2017 records, Deer Tick Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, the band do purport themes and stereotypes associated with country. These records display an increased maturity since their 2013 release Negativity, with band members experiencing fatherhood, and a general movement away from the punk-rock angst that they revelled in previously. Lead singer John McCauley’s nasal vocals, an acquired taste, gives Vol. 1 a Dylan-esque touch, whilst the ketchup and mustard gracing the two album covers seem far too ‘Norman Rockwell meets JD Salinger’ for the ‘country’ categorization to be avoided.
As with their recent double LP, their set at Islington Assembly Hall was split ostensibly into acoustic and electric sets. Whilst, generally, I preferred Vol. 1, this set was somewhat lacking in the energy I was expecting from Deer Tick. Whether this was due to the smaller crowd, or the attempt at mirroring the coffee-house vibe of Vol 1., it felt like the band, lacking a warm-up act, were simply opening for themselves. Guitarist Ian Patrick O’Neil was the only member who attempted to fully engage in these songs, and his lead performance of ‘Hope Is Big’ was this set’s clear highlight.
Deer Tick found their stride during their electric set and were clearly more comfortable with their setlist. McCauley’s vocals, aggressively misplaced in Vol. 1, felt more at ease here, backed by the distorted guitars and their trademark In Utero-punk sound that they have honed over several years. One clear highlight was ‘These Old Shoes’, a bittersweet love song of a man struggling to return to his love (“I will take these old shoes to get to you”), which was preceded by a brief skit featuring McCauley complaining to his wife about air travel. Even their audience engagement was more direct during the second set.
As displayed further in their performance of ‘Easy’, from their 2009 record Born On Flag Day, which featured pointed lyricism such as ‘Out the door/With the devil in my eyes/That son of a bitch crossed me once/But he won’t cross me twice’, when Deer Tick committed to their own style, they did not disappoint. The adrenaline-fuelled performances from the band, including McCauley’s fiercely engaging vocals, delivered exactly the visceral energy the audience and I craved.
The gig could be summarised with the final lines from the Mountain Goats’ fantastic 2017 record Goths: ‘However big that chorused bass may throb/You and me, and all of us, are gonna have to find a job/Because the world will never know, or understand/The suffocated splendour, of the once and future goth band’. This path of maturity was probably more than due for Deer Tick, but it is one that they are taking reluctantly. It may take a little time for their audience to get used to the band’s new direction, but for now, this gig proves that Deer Tick still know exactly who they want to be.
Featured image courtesy of www.rollingstone.com, photograph by Laura Partain