Deer Tick


“Sorry we’re a couple minutes late. We were water skiing.”

With that explanation out of the way, the tooth that’s all silver and shiny in the mouth of Deer Tick’s John McCauley might be a fortified one he uses to bite off his beer-bottle top before his exhaled breath propels it up into the air above the stage. “Cheers,” he smiles, raising his beer just as the strings of acoustic instruments begin to be plucked and strummed to get the band’s first set of the evening under way.

A whole load of us have gathered at the Deaf Institute for what we’ve heard will be two distinct sets from Deer Tick with no support bands, and I’m here on the recommendation that the four-piece from Providence, Rhode Island is a live act not to be missed.

A few songs in and MTV Unplugged in New York by Nirvana is coming to the fore as a possible major source of inspiration for the first set. The intricate musicianship from McCauley, ex-Titus Andronicus guitarist Ian O’Neil, and half-brothers Chris and Dennis Ryan on bass and drums, is top-drawer, making me cast my mind back to how impressed I was when I first watched Kurt Cobain on television combining with the Kirkwood brothers on the Meat Puppets songs.

I’m also thinking of early Grateful Dead. Even though McCauley’s voice can be raw and ragged like Cobain’s, all four members of Deer Tick provide vocals to give the kind of variation that the Dead had on their predominantly acoustic Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty records. McCauley doesn’t always sing lead either, with O’Neil taking the reins on the plaintive ‘Hope Is Big’, for example, and thick-bearded drummer Dennis Ryan doing the honours on the strutting ‘Me and My Man’, a song he says was written about going for walkies and playing fetch with his dog Reginald.

That latter song followed by the lilting ‘Cocktail’ is to me the part of the set with a slight Hispanic flavour, having the same Los Lobos-recalling effect that those two tracks have when sat side-by-side on last year’s Deer Tick, Vol. 1 LP. The second full-length record that the band released in 2017, Vol. 2, is the one that contains the amped-up electric guitar-based songs, the type of which we can look forward to in the second set tonight.

But that’s not before we are charmed in the first portion of the show by the band’s choice of a rousing mandolin-led cover of Salford legend Ewan MacColl’s ‘Dirty Old Town’, dedicated to a Salfordian in the audience near to the stage. What soon follows, to finish up the acoustic set, is some kind of endurance thrash session that concludes with the Ryans acting like they are the rhythm section of a speed metal band.

Deer Tick

If the first set was a nigh-on-perfect showcase of the band’s mellower side, incorporating a whole array of acoustic instruments and featuring such an endearing highlight in the form of the MacColl cover, then the band would have to outdo itself to match it in the electric set. Deer Tick dividing its recorded output last year (and its live shows since then) into ‘unplugged’ and ‘plugged’ sets strikes me as an old fashioned and slightly corny idea somehow, but it does seem to work well.

The electric set, with the band rocking and rolling for the most part, with songs like recent single ‘Jumpstarting’, starts to make me think of The Replacements. Of course, the fact I’ve spent most of the night being reminded of other bands is not necessarily a good thing generally speaking because it might suggest that Deer Tick lacks originality. That indeed may well be so, but I personally am more than pleased on account of my love for the aforementioned bands.

I’m a tad surprised to find that one of my favourite Deer Tick compositions, ‘S.M.F.’, a song that finds much excitement at the nevertheless “shitty music festival” abbreviated in the title, is only included in the set tonight after an audience shout-out request. Elsewhere, the jovial Ryan and O’Neil take lead vocals on enjoyable slacker-rock numbers like ‘Wants / Needs’ and ‘Look How Clean I Am’.

It’s clear that the band, especially McCauley, is pretty bummed out by sound problems during the electric set. What the guys are hearing through their in-ear monitors isn’t to their liking at all, but I actually wouldn’t even be aware of an issue were it not for the band’s (mostly) light-hearted moans.

Not even a brief kiss with tongues from O’Neil is enough to make McCauley snap out of his frustration entirely, but I like the fact that McCauley cares as much as he does about putting on the best possible show. Whilst tonight I may not have witnessed Deer Tick at the top of its game for a whole gig, I have nonetheless seen enough to believe that this is a band capable of scaling great musical heights on the live circuit.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.