Ian O'Neil, Deer Tick's guitarist and occasional singer, opened the show, taking the stage a few minutes before the 9:00 start time. "Welcome to the first night of me opening for my band every night," he acknowledged. O'Neil played a short set of the Deer Tick songs he sings and a couple covers, including "Lookin' for a Love" by Neil Young. It was neat to hear his solo takes on the DT songs, but it makes me wonder what his set on 12/19 will be like, considering all but one of the songs are on the album and EP they are scheduled to play that evening. I didn't notice any bowling noises during his set, but it was confusing to hear the crowd talking over a guy from the band they came to see actually playing the band's songs.
Hollis Brown, a band in the similar folk-rock realm, took the middle spot. They looked like total hipsters except for the fact that they were physically into their music. Mike Montali has a good voice, and at times, the band recalled a tamer Crazy Horse. They also put their spin on a Neil Young song, the Charles Manson-inspired "Revolution Blues." They're not breaking any new ground, but they're not trying to. Their album drops in 2013, and you can download their EP here for free.
The five members of Deer Tick walked onto the stage in blazers and ties, and after a quick final soundcheck, they proceeded with "Easy," the opening track of Born on Flag Day. "It's gonna be a fun few weeks," suggested John McCauley with a gold-toothed grin. "Little White Lies," the second track on the album, came next. When "Smith Hill" followed, it was apparent that the album would be performed in order, unlike Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle concerts or Dave Matthews Band's recent Away from the World show. "I'm really looking forward to next week because we get to play 'Holy Shit, It's Christmas!' Who's gonna be there for that shit show?" McCauley admitted a little too prematurely to be thinking about the other shows. He remained onstage while the other members left, Chris Ryan returning with a double bass and a fiddler in tow for "Song About a Man." The band rejoined them for "Houston, TX," Ryan keeping the upright handy to rotate between tunes.
"We have a few more ideas," offered McCauley, and they honky-tonked into "La La La" from More Fuel for the Fire. Former guitarist Andy Tobiassen left the band in 2010, but not before penning "Dance of Love." Would they play it? "It's on the EP that we said we're gonna play, so...," John obliged, and they nailed the jumpy little number that happens to be one of my favorite Deer Tick songs. "Axe is Forever" finished off the EP, and the boys slowed things down with set-closing folk standard "Goodnight, Irene," the hidden track at the end of Born on Flag Day.
The house music came back on, which seemed strange. At this point, they hadn't even played for an hour, and there was no mention of their debut LP War Elephant being played at the three shows. A minute and a half later, they returned to rock out "Standing at the Threshold." The War Elephant tracks that followed reinvigorated a crowd that didn't know what tunes to expect. Which turned out to be exactly the downfall of an album-structured Deer Tick show. Deer Tick is a party band. They defy curfews. They play as many as fifteen covers in a set. John McCauley has even been known to light his pubic hair on fire onstage. Tethered to an album's running order, that edge-of-your-seat spontaneity is absent, replaced with a formality reflected in the band's attire. (I saw McCauley's band Diamond Rugs perform their eponymous album this summer, but that loose vibe remained intact, likely because that group of musicians don't regularly play together.) The most exciting moments were when things nearly fell apart halfway through "Straight Into a Storm," the duet with a stranger, attempting a song a past member wasn't there to sing, and one odd piece of headgear. You see, right after "Art Isn't Real," a bra was thrown onstage. Strapping the brassiere around his head, McCauley boasted, "I've got a cool, new hat for the winter," and kept it on for the rest of the encore. "What Kind of Fool Am I?" was a sweet solo affair, and the whole band, plus the fiddler, a harmonica player, and a very participatory crowd yelled along to "Ashamed." "Here's some top secret notes," McCauley joked, tossing out the setlist pages into the audience. I purchased the three-night pass, so here's hoping the encores get progressively longer and wilder. Either way, I'm going to see Deer Tick play all their songs, and that's pretty fucking cool.
IAN O’NEIL – 12.05.12 – BROOKLYN BOWL (21 minutes)
Passing Through > Now It’s Your Turn / Lookin’ for a Love / She’s Not Spanish / Walkin Out the Door / Hope is Big
HOLLIS BROWN – 12.05.12 – BROOKLYN BOWL (35 minutes)
Gypsy Black Cat / Ride on the Train / Faith & Love & Everything* / When the Weather’s Warm / Down on Your Luck / Walk on Water / Nightfall / Revolution Blues
DEER TICK – 12.05.12 – BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 16 minutes)
Easy / Little White Lies / Smith Hill / Song About a Man / Houston, TX / Straight into a Storm / Friday XIII / The Ghost (false start) / The Ghost / Hell on Earth (false start) / Hell on Earth / Stung / La La La / Dance of Love / Axe is Forever / Goodnight, Irene
Standing at the Threshold / Art Isn’t Real (City of Sin) / These Old Shoes / Spend the Night / What Kind of Fool Am I? / Ashamed