Deer Tick: I’ll make all the walls fall down

Deer Tick | Islington Assembly Hall | 30 January 2018

Human attention spans are shorter than ever, shorter even than the average goldfish. And, into a world where the average person loses focus after eight seconds, Deer Tick released two albums simultaneously. That’s 20 songs spanning 71 minutes – and two very distinct moods. ‘Vol. 1’ was all acoustic guitars and intimate vocals, ‘Vol. 2’ gritty garage rock.

“Every album we’ve put out has had its manic moments in one way or another. I felt good enough about everything that I was writing to think that we could truly separate our two big interests: quiet and loud,” explained frontman John McCauley when the LPs dropped in September 2017.

It was an ambitious move, and one they’ve repeated out on the road: all shows on their current Twice Is Nice Tour feature two sets, one acoustic, one electric. Setting the tone for the first, ‘Vol. 1’ standout ‘Sea Of Clouds’ is all strummed acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies as McCauley delivers pained lines like “As we get older now, I cannot help but think/ We’ve all just settled for a lie” over a soaring melody.

Changing up instruments as he goes – at various points also playing bouzouki, mandolin, harmonica, flute, and a miniature guitar – McCauley not only leads the band through the shuffling ‘House Of Cards’, rowdy barroom singalong ‘Smith Hill’, and late night comedown ‘Cocktail’, he stands back from the microphone for other voices to be heard.

Drummer Dennis Ryan takes charge on the jaunty ‘Me And My Man’, written from point of view of his dog, while lead guitarist Ian O’Neil steps up to croon the loping ‘Hope Is Big’ (deftly reimagined sans piano), thank the London audience for being way more attentive than their US fans, and kick up the pace with a rollicking ‘The Dream’s In The Ditch’.

The ‘Negativity’ head bopper is the perfect setup for ‘Mange’, which builds up from bass player Chris Ryan’s slow groove to end in a synchronised guitar duel more energetic, more ‘Freebird’, than any unplugged performance has a right to be. With a hint of things to come, McCauley breaks a string.

Following a brief break to clear the stage of the acoustic instruments (and “make space to rock out”) the Providence, Rhode Island return to deliver on that promise.

The whiskey-soaked ‘Don’t Hurt’ and Crazy Horse-inspired ‘Jumpstarting’, both from ‘Vol. 2’, are followed by a high-energy set that takes in their signature garage rock (O’Neill’s galloping ‘Tiny Fortunes’, Dennis Ryan’s swinging ‘Wants/Needs’, the thundering ‘Easy’) with detours into forlorn country and western (Ryan’s serial killer ditty ‘Clownin’ Around’), subtle Americana (‘20 Miles’), sleazy Southern rock (O’Neill’s stomping ‘Look How Clean I Am’), traditional folk (a masterful take on The Pogues’ ‘White City’), and even all-out punk (a raucous ‘The Bump’).

The electric set thrills throughout, but its highlight is undoubtedly a muscular, extended take on ‘Baltimore Blues No.1’ that ends with a grinning McCauley sliding onto his knees in front of the bass drum to lay down a fiery guitar solo as joyous, energetic, and ragged as the acoustic set was taut and focused.

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