[14 March 2010]
No gum-chewing. No lewd gestures. No touching the exhibits. No stomping. No flash photography. Please be mindful of your surroundings. Use your indoor voice. And for heavens’ sake, no ZZ Top! This is a museum; a dignified establishment. This is no place for a hoedown, a mosh pit or unkempt hooligans. This is where relics of nostalgia should be seen and revered, but not heard. Silence is the golden rule. Despite what Ben Stiller might have shown you in his popular, pedestrian movie, a museum is not a place to frolic and schmooze with the curios. They are to be admired from afar, for a nominal fee. Thank you for your cooperation and patronage.
Needless to say, those stodgy guidelines were ripped to shreds once riotous rockers Deer Tick invaded Los Angeles’ Natural History Museum. The concert was part of “First Fridays”, a program that lets archeology buffs and fringe-haired young things alike convene where the (stuffed) buffalo roam to hear DJs, lectures and, in this case, music at very un-museum-friendly volumes.
Everest, a local band with an appropriately mountainous sound, kicked things off. Glancing behind him, drinking in the faux butte backdrop, singer Russell Pollard mused, “I envision myself in a green, beautiful hillside in Louisville, Kentucky right now.” With that, he struck up the willowy folk song “Rebels in the Roses”, a chilling blue light bathing Pollard as he crooned.
But this wasn’t the Ice Age Bering Strait replica room of the museum, so Everest warmed things up again by setting the mood to “boogie” (as Pollard insisted). He saddled up to a sidecar of Davey Latter’s drum kit and bashed the holy hell out of his percussion. The stage exploded in an orgy of woodblocks, maracas and keyboard blurts. And this was only a pre-shock to the sonic boom awaiting in the guise of Deer Tick.
Already, unplugged ears were abuzz with decibels not customary to such austere surroundings. Then out came Deer Tick—who may hail from the U.S.‘s smallest state, but their compensatory sound was like that of the T. Rex skeleton in the museum’s main hallway: huge, dangerous, and thunderous. In essence, too big for the four walls that attempted to cage them.
Their sense of humor was pretty epic, too. Thanks to some technical spats plaguing guitarist Ian O’Neil, the other three chaps took to pre-set noodling on some left-field covers: the omnipresent “Pants on the Ground” and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Another One Rides the Bus”. Later, after an impressive instrumental break, lead man John McCauley III planted a kiss on O’Neil’s head. That number concluded with the boys proclaiming, “We’re selling that song for $10. We’ll sell it to Tom Petty. He’s probably got like $12 or $13.” Most amusingly, while most artists duck backstage while the audience cheers for an encore, these fellows just continued to mill about the stage, grinning and stealing swigs of Stella Artois.
When it comes to their musical chops, though, they’re all business. McCauley commands the plectrum like a maestro, letting his fingers work like pistons on “Standing at the Threshold”, off 2008’s War Elephant (Partisan). The DT team navigated seamlessly amid Southern rock morsels (“Straight Into a Storm”, which was accented by the perfect lyrics, given the locale: “Make some noise!”), angular surf riffs and dreamy but cohesive shoegaze (“Mange”). Their prowess could very well earn them the title of America’s best high-brow bar band.
All the while, they prodded and poked at the stoicism of the museum, inching the volume up little by little, until that crunchy, defiant ZZ Top tribute capped the night (“Cheap Sunglasses”, which drummer Dennis Ryan cheekily donned, to complement his ultra cool Michael Jackson T-shirt). The NHS had just been schooled in Rebellion 101.