Deer Tick: “Acoustick” at the Somerville Theatre – Somerville, MA
Mandolins, bouzoukis, and fifes, oh my! Yes, boys and girls, Providence, Rhode Island’s beloved Deer Tick played an “Acoustick” show at the Somerville Theatre as part of their acoustic tour. The show consisted of Deer Tick playing their own tunes and a couple of covers, just with (mostly) acoustic instruments instead of their usual electric guitars. It’s that age-old publicity thing that all bands seem to do, that doesn’t always work out. In this case, though, it was awesome.
Deer Tick, already a pretty heavily folk and old country western influenced band, plays music that is very suited to be performed with acoustic instruments. And the arrangements that John McCauley and his very talented cohorts created worked really well. Ian O’Neil’s (looking like Bob Dylan wearing a crazily colored psychedelic shirt and a bit of a ’fro) amazing guitar work sounds just as good on an acoustic guitar and a mandolin as an electric. McCauley, in addition to his acoustic guitar, broke out a fife, played on “Smith Hill,” and a traditional Greek stringed instrument called a bouzouki. It wasn’t fully an acoustic show, as both played electric guitars—Chris Ryan played an electric bass when not playing his standup bass, and Robert Crowell’s keys were plugged in. But the night showed a softer, more intimate side of the normally raucous and wild Deer Tick show.
Opening with The Black Dirt Session’s “Twenty Miles,” the band played a nice mixture of old, newer and some brand-new, unreleased songs. During Born on Flag Day’s “Smith Hill” McCauley whipped out a fife-like flute from a little sleeve-looking apparatus on his mic stand to play the intro and bridge melody on. Afterwards, drummer Dennis Ryan sang and played drums on “Clowning Around,” which was met with whoops and audience members shouting “Yeah, Dennis!” I guess when you only sing one song, if you do it well the audience appreciates it.
The band played a couple of classics from their first record (my personal favorite) War Elephant, like “Nevada” and “Art Isn’t Real (City of Sin).” And after a brand-new song, “Only Love,” McCauley sauntered over to a keyboard while rolling up his sleeves because, “this here’s a fighting song.” After threatening to beat up every one of his band mates after the show and telling the story of the time he and Dennis almost fought because McCauley tried to dump a cooler of ice on him, he launched into a Black Dirt style rendition of “Christ Jesus.” The War Elephant version of that song is arguably much better with the raw, distorted electric guitars, but this piano version fit the acoustic vibe of the show well.
After another brand-new song (“Cocktail”), and a Velvet Underground song (“Pale Blue Eyes”), Deer Tick finished off their main set with an extended version of “Mange.” Each band member took a little solo before leaving the stage. McCauley went first, and afterwards gave the audience an awkward, humble little bow. Of course they came back to the stage a minute or two later for the encore (Surprise!). The encore had a cool version of “Main Street” and a cover of “Dirty Old Town” by The Pogues. They ended the show, like they almost always do, with their most popular song, “Ashamed.”
All-in-all, the “Acoustick” show was a cool experience. It was almost like Nirvana’s (Deervana?) MTV Unplugged set, providing a stripped-down perspective of their usually loud electric songs. And the quieter acoustic instruments didn’t blow my eardrums out like the last time I saw Deer Tick play. McCauley thanked the audience for paying attention and caring, sighting the other venues on this tour, bar rooms and less refined rooms, as being “less appreciative” of the acoustic arrangements. I, for one, appreciated the effort, McCauley, and as always, F*CK DEER TICK!
By Evan Frye