Attending a Deer Tick show comes with an unspoken disclaimer: the closer you are to the stage, the more likely you are to get spit on, sprayed with beer, or better yet both. The band has a reputation for being a brotherhood of rock ‘n’ roll drunkards with a taste for sonic debauchery. True “Tickheads” (aka Deer Tick fanatics) do not let the elements of beer and spit get in the way; in fact they join in on the fluid exchange. I learned this when the band graced Chicago with their presence Monday November 14 at Reggie’s Rock Club. Natives of Providence, Rhode Island, Deer Tick were on tour in support of their fourth studio release Divine Providence, out now on Partisan Records. Supporting their all ages, sold-out Chicago venture was Chicagoan Paleo and avant-pop rockers Guards.
Deer Tick were proceeded by the illusive Guards who created intricate variations of pop music. The band wove together everything from psychedelic sways with hints of plastic soul, to clap along pop-rock and omnichord experimentation. Mid-set Guards leader Richie Follin stated: “Since we are all at a Deer Tick show we must be drunk, on drugs, or full of youthful exuberance.” Though the night was still young, mixed cries varying in levels of intoxication cheered in support of Follin’s astute observation. Eventually Guards cleared the stage to make way for Deer Tick.
During set break I witnessed a pack of under-aged kids get kicked out for drinking beer, fans fight for spots on the rail, a girl heckle roadies to pass her beers from onstage, and overheard two girls plotting ways to get noticed by, or meet, the band. (I ended up next to the two girls for a majority of the show. While they failed to catch the musician’s attention, they succeeded in checking their iPhones every thirty seconds.) While there was prime people watching in the audience, I was more than ready for Deer Tick to hit stage.
Deer Tick staggered onstage shortly after 10:00 PM. All five members sported suits of varying shades, some more formal than others. They looked like a discount wedding band who pre-gamed in the parking lot. Lead singer/guitarist John McCauley was armed with a palette of 24 Budweiser tall boys, one cracked and raised to cheers the audience. Fellow band mates carried the remnants of personal six packs and settled behind their instruments. Deer Tick hit the ground running paying homage to Chicago post-grunge legends Local H. They charged head first into the hit “Bound for the Floor”, made it to the bridge then stampeded into their original song “The Bump”.
“The Bump” had beers splashing and heads thrashing in no time thanks to its animalistic, call and response nature. Fans were charged with testosterone as they repeated every line McCauley bellowed into the mic. For the next two hours Deer Tick pretty much shuffled up Divine Providence and played the album in its entirety. Added to the mix were gems from the back catalog, including a brief solo interlude with McCauley and several choice covers.
Deer Tick are typically pegged as an indie-folk rock outfit, but after hearing and seeing them live I could not disagree more. The truth is Deer Tick are everything one could ask for in a rock ‘n’ roll band: they are loud, raw and sweaty with an unquenchable thirst for cheap beer. Their music challenges audience intuition making individuals want to simultaneously head bang, scream, twist and shout. Before you are out of breath they may lay you down gently by grabbing your heart with romantic lyrics of the human experience.
This exact scenario occurred halfway through the set when the band cleared the stage leaving McCauley alone with his tall boy and guitar. He spent the next 15 minutes performing darker toned numbers, including the soulful grunge ballad “Christ Jesus”. McCauley’s unique vocals came from his gut and rang coarse with a residue of booze, smoke and bar shows. His unpolished chops emulated everything from emotional turning points “Christ Jesus” and “Chevy Express”, to covers of Jim Croce and Nirvana, to the boogie woogie tunings of “Something to Brag About”.
Additional performance highlights included McCauley and guitarist Ian O’Neil sharing a kiss during “Funny Word”, and McCauley stripping and fondling during “Ashamed”. (There was no indecent exposure unless you count a female fan tossing her panties onstage preceding “Ashamed”.) Drummer Dennis Ryan took lead vocals on his softer note “Clownin Around”, which he introduced as a song about “birthday parties in Chicago.” It is always impressive when drummers take on vocals and Ryan did not disappoint. His Americana croon had everyone swaying in place, quietly sipping their beers to the tune about serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Deer Tick ended the evening inviting Guards, Paleo and guitarist Thomas Hardy (whom the band jokingly introduced as “Mumford and Sons”) onstage. Over 15 musicians crammed the stage morphing into one big super group. Together they riled up their fans to the tune of “Let’s All Go To The Bar”. Immediately whatever beer was left onstage was used to spray the audience causing fits of elated madness. To make matters better Deer Tick bassist Chris Ryan jumped into the crowd’s open arms while playing. Unfortunately the chaos had to come to an end. It was barely past midnight and half the audience appeared charged, ready to tackle the rest of the evening. Lucky for them there was a bar conveniently located next door.