Deer Tick’s singer and front man, John McCauley, did not receive the only shock of the Aug. 22’s Live On King Street show from his faulty, electrocuting microphone. Patrons of their performance, who were expecting a classic folk rock set, were also shocked by the high energy nature of the band’s style.
The night was hot and sticky and the crowd was thick, but all of the performers on the bill performed with surprising energy, efficiency and finesse. Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas, The Weeks and Deer Tick converted their musical styles to more appropriately fit the live medium and it was surprisingly exciting and theatrical.
Although Deer Tick’s musical production can often sound like Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel settled down and left behind his violins and tambourines to strum a classic acoustic guitar with Dave Matthews, their performance style was anything but dull. On stage, McCauley’s vocals felt like the deep heartiness of Bruce Springsteen’s voice harmonized with the resounding rasp of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
Many of their studio tracks tend to run together in drawn-out love ballads and basic chord progressions, but the band took full advantage of the stage as a platform to diversify their sound. Drummer Rob Crowell, and guitarist Ian O’Neil had an opportunity to showcase their instrumental skill and brought high-intensity energy by extending songs with lengthy jam sessions. Their style paid homage to the jam greats like Umphrey’s McGee and Phish without the over-indulgent 20-minute outros to each song.
The band achieved a perfect balance of cleanliness and precision with experimentation. While on stage they communicated frequently and inconspicuously, making sure the instruments were coming together properly and occasionally offering each other drinks and drags of cigarettes. The experience felt very kind and cordial but also fun and passionate. About 30 minutes into the show McCauley and O’Neil rammed into each other and locked shoulders for several minutes during a particularly intense jam session.
Mid-performance antics were prevalent throughout the night, beginning hours before Deer Tick took the stage. Jessica Hernandez of Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas glided high and low with great vocal range while swaying her head and hips. Toward the end, she abandoned her shyer rapport when she strummed a guitar and pounded a snare drum during what she referred to as the band’s least favorite song, “Picture Me With You (Carnie Threesome)”.
But the show really picked up steam during The Weeks’ performance when lead guitarist Samuel Williams picked his guitar with so much force that he snapped the strings and had to cycle through a few different guitars. Their performance climaxed when lead singer Cyle Barnes and Williams locked lips briefly after an intense guitar riff. The set was filled with theatrics but the show progressed like a well-oiled machine and the band members fed off each other’s energy.
As Deer Tick’s performance came to a close, McCauley invited his pregnant wife to the stage for a folky a capella duet, a love ballad that slowed the pace down considerably after McCauley spent a minute-long jam session channeling the moves of James Brown, swaying back and forth on the ground. It was a heartfelt digression from the head pounding and guitar busting; slowly the crowd followed suit and began to sway along to the rhythm with their respective partners.
They ended the night with the first track off their first album, Ashamed. It was a feel-good, sing-along song that rounded out the night. It was a positive note and great contrast to the faulty microphone debacle that opened up the show and even threatened to end it. Fortunately, the show did go on and Deer Tick proved their versatility and theatrical skills.