Live Review

Deer Tick, La [2], Sala Apolo, Barcelona

Together, they have the tools but neither the know-how or, increasingly, the tunes.

“I’m an animal!” howls John J. McCauley III in that familiar, sleazy, saloon-bar tone. “We’re full grown men / But we act like kids!” he adds. And so, like recent LP ‘Divine Providence’, ‘The Bump’ kick starts the evening’s proceedings and provides a useful metaphor for the show to come – a booze fuelled rock’n’roll stomp that plays fast and loose with arrangements, convention, and the sound man’s patience. You might not have guessed it from the world-weary, melancholic sentiments littered through their previous three albums, but Deer Tick have become somewhat (in)famous for a raucous live show and the trail of destruction left in their wake. Tonight sees them in no mood to let their hard won mantle slip.

You can see the appeal – four hard livin’, hard drinkin’ buddies from the blue-collar North East, all scruffy hair and thrift-store chic peddling a blues and country tinged rock that’s seemingly never out of fashion. Honest music and tales of simple folk traced down from Springsteen to Craig Finn. At least, I’m sure that’s what McCauley believes, but he has neither the presence nor the chutzpah to pull it off. Instead his leery, beer-soaked antics provide a distraction that even all the enthusiasm in the world can’t overcome.

What he does have however is his voice, and Lord, what a set of pipes to possess at 25. Whether crooning through ‘Chevy Express’, pushed to it’s limits on a mesmerising ‘Christ Jesus’ – electric guitar replacing piano, complete with fuzzed out, Jack White-esque intro – or hollering along to the easy rock of ‘Main Street’ and ‘The Bump’, his gruff, growling delivery is bursting with frustration and sentiment. It’s a wonder he can even speak by the end, so intense is his performance. He also has the musicians who, in between the tomfoolery, put on a pretty good show. Drummer Denis Ryan makes a pretty good fist of lead vocal on ‘Clownin’ Around’, a smattering of synths and a sax solo highlight the versatility of Rob Crowell, while former Titus Andronicus axeman Ian O’Neil gets his moment in the sun with some neat solos and the acoustic pickings of ‘Ashamed’.

The real shame is that none of this can save the spectacle. Together, they have the tools but neither the know-how or, increasingly, the tunes. It’s good natured and competent, but the sort of set you’d expect from a Blues Hammer tribute band at some truck stop in Nowheresville, Oklahoma. The beer spitting, inter-band snogging (between McCauley and O’Neil and yes, there were tongues) and general carnage was more Lads On Tour than anything befitting Iggy or Lux Interior, even if it did look like quite a hoot. If only we’d had as much fun as the band, it would have been quite the gig.

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