all words by Josh Phelps
all photos by Jane Briggs
Filtering a Deer Tick/Dr. Dog show through the bottom of a few Jamesons is arguably the prime condition. 930 was crammed with like-minded revelers soaked in suds, whiskey, and Friday night’s downpour well before Deer Tick took the stage at 9:15 – a rare thing considering you can normally stroll in for a headliner a few minutes early and march up to a decent spot. But John McCauley’s seething garage blues outfit is no ordinary opener. Held in esteem from NPR to your favorite music blogs, the live shows are punctuated as much by the honesty of McCauley’s compositions as the potential for booze fueled good times.
Armed with a voice that alternately creaks with the comfort of grandpa’s rocking chair or the sinister whine of an old floorboard in the next room pressed by the boot of your maker, McCauley guides you through a tumult of emotion through compositions wound tight by the stellar musicians at his side. Bassist Chris Ryan locked in with Dennis Ryan’s drums from the first notes, a rousing extended opening to “Easy” off of 2009’s Born on Flag Day, while McCauley plugged in and led the foot-stomping battle between angels and demons.
The set was peppered with new tunes and covers, including one of McCauley’s side-project with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit cheekily dubbed “MG&V.” An electro-chill-pop freakout this aint as guitarist Ian O’Neil (former Titus Andronicus) and McCauley shared vocals on “Me Me Me” and raced through the hip-shaker like the law was on their ass. “When She Comes Home” was another new song which, compared to some of the earlier, sparse Deer Tick tunes, was bursting at the seams. O’Neil and McCauley harmonized throughout the lonely lover’s lament while new tour mate Bob’s organ lazed alongside C. Ryan’s ambling bass.
This wouldn’t sound out of place on a Faces album, which is a great thing. Crowd favorite “Ashamed” was turned sideways and repackaged as sultry rhythm and blues, replete with sax solo from Bob and inspired crowd sing-alongs during the chorus. O’Neil announced Buried Deep and Born at Zero (dead at 23,) a couple of songs so fresh that neither are listed as tracks from “The Black Dirt Sessions,” dropping June 8th. Each of these reflected more instrumental and vocal involvement from McCauley’s band, a progression he’s admitted in his own interview with himself.
Typically, Deer Tick careened through their familiar themes of pain, despair, and isolation but never sulked. Whether picking sweetly through “Little White Lies” or hobo-hollering on “These Old Shoes,” the Providence crew raised Hell all the same.
The Dr. Dog road show in 2010 is a juggernaut built on the strength of tight live shows (over 430 since January 2004,) forged with the sweat equity and the enduring persistence it takes to play the dingiest clubs for years. They didn’t wait for a break – they took it.
What was hard to earn has culminated in sold out shows at major US cities’ most important venues and true fans who are going to show up every time you’re in town, buy your merch, and pass along your record. But why?
Dr. Dog are satisfying the pop-rock jones with hooks, harmonies, and catchy guitars tweaked just right to satisfy a fan whether Phish or Foo Fighter, Beach Boy or Beatle. On Friday, the band showcased nearly all of the well-received new record, Shame Shame. Opening with the lively “Stranger,” they rushed the stage with sunglasses, neon guitars, and a light show that suggests they may have learned a thing or two about showmanship during their festival slots.
The crowd danced through “I Only Wear Blue” and “Later,” the latter a piano driven sermon from the pulpit of Billy Joel. Nearly every lyric over the course of the mammoth 2 hour set was accompanied by a choir of 1200 plus from the psychedelic “Someday,” laced with flashbacks of the band’s early experimental material, to 2008 LP Fate’s “The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer.”
The fans were getting what they wanted, the so-called “hits” and a big thank you to those that have nurtured the band from DC9 to Iota to Rock and Roll Hotel to 930 Club. In return, Dr. Dog will have as long a career as they want and will probably sell a few pairs of those neon sunglasses too.