My first experience with Deer Tick was in the summer of 2014 where they were the first opener (the second being The Hold Steady) at a Replacements concert, and it was one of the greatest shows I've ever had the privilege of seeing. Since then, Deer Tick have been a somewhat of a musical staple in my household. They are probably the band I recommend to music fans most often, the conversation going something like, "Dude have you ever listened to Deer Tick? No!? Dude, you gotta!" There's something about Deer Tick for everyone: emotional lyricism, powerful vocals, rockin' jams, catchy choruses, the works! Last year, during their ten night residency at Brooklyn Bowl celebrating their tenth anniversary as a band, they played covers of entire albums ranging from Devo to Lou Reed and completely different sets night to night. In my eyes, they are the unrivaled epitome of what the "American bar band" should be with maybe the exception of their labelmates, The Hold Steady.
The boys from Rhode Island returned to the Brooklyn Bowl for their annual "New Year's Eve Bender," and brought with them Last Good Tooth, a folk americana four-piece lead by mustachioed and mutton-chopped Penn Sultan. Penn opened each song by stating the meaning of the song in a simple and often humorous manner, ex. "This song is about falling in love with someone and finding out they have brain cancer" (the humor was mostly in the delivery). What set these guys apart from the many bands like them that have been popping up in recent years is the fantastic interweaving of melodies between Penn's guitar and Alex Spoto's fiddle. Alex creates broad looming notes that Penn pleasantly plucks and plays painstakingly over, creating a continuous cornucopia of sounds.
By the time Deer Tick had taken the stage, much of the crowd's New Year's bender was off to a good start. The entire front of the stage was littered with empty pitchers of beer as twentysomethings swarmed to snapchat the setlist to their friends. From the very beginning, lead singer John McCauley's voice sounded as throaty, strained and impassioned (in a good way, think Kurt Cobain circa MTV Unplugged) as it does on the studio recordings. Starting with "The Bump," a drunken singalong that celebrates the glorious reputation of a party animal, the whole audience began to sing along and sway their bodies (and their drinks) to the music. The members of the band were all armed with their beverages of choice too. At John's feet sat a pitcher of beer on ice, which after finishing his first cup, he only drank directly out of. For bassist Christopher Dale Ryan, a glass and full bottle and of red wine sat in special holders atop his bass cabinet.
Guitarist Ian O'Neil sang on two new tracks ("Look How Clean I Am" and "Hope Is Big") and drummer Dennis Ryan took over for "Clownin' Around," proving that there was no lack of vocal talent from the rest of the band. John put down his guitar and crouched over the piano that had been set up beside him for the more ballad-y tracks like "The Rock" and "Just Friends." When asked who would be attending the following night's show, a large portion of the crowd cheered as John assured them that they would hear a completely different set with no overlapping songs. They returned to the stage for an encore that included a fantastic cover of the Pogues' "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" and ending with a massive singalong of the now classic "Ashamed" off of their first album War Elephant
. With every performance of theirs I see, they only further secure their position as "America's Greatest Bar Band."
Be sure to check out our session with the band and the rest of our pictures from the evening below.