Although they had an announced set time of 9 PM, no one standing inside the Brooklyn Bowl needed a clock to know exactly when The Districts had arrived. Within seconds of walking across the stage, singer/guitarist Rob Grote, drummer Braden Lawrence, bassist Connor Jacobus and lead guitarist Pat Cassidy encountered a hail storm of applause; instantly alerting everyone within a five mile radius of the venue that their performance was about to begin. Opening for Deer Tick on the fourth date of their six-night residency (12-29-14), the Philadelphia band’s playing took on a natural ease that encapsulated a fondness for raw, honest storytelling.
The music of the Districts exhibits a sharply drawn identity, vividly projecting the silkened bloom and corrosive decay that is present all around us. Mirroring the change of seasons, arrangements recalibrate with as much frequency and warning as the weather. The sheer force of their playing changes on a dime, guiding the listener through stories that make you feel the agitation and turbulence of a situation. The same surging voltage and oscillating temperature is countered by a complete unpredictability, generating a primal sound that touches every nerve. And whether they are awash in muted shades or drowning in piercing color, their capacity for marrying stark contemplation with near venomous melody mimics the alternating dispositions and perceptions of human nature. All of which has established the Districts as hard-nosed poets, fully capable of producing lived-in melody that could break the Richter scale.
Appearing on 2013’s Telephone, “Long Distance,” has become a staple of the band’s live show. Beginning with a guitar riff so gentle it’s almost soothing, each verse gradually builds before erupting into a heavy chorus that finds Grote promising to, “Reach around and pull away my spine if it will make me feel alright.” As they played, the Bowl’s green, yellow, blue and red lights seemed to be reacting to the groups movements, often appearing as calm or as frenzied as they were. Crashing about the stage, their figures were illuminated by a cascade of lights that reflected the song’s message and tone like a mood ring.
“We already played ‘Long Distance!’”
Laughing at a fan’s request to hear them play it one more time, lyricist Rob Grote smiled before glancing at his band mates. And though they chose not to repeat any performances during the course of their hour-long set, the exchange drew attention to the band’s ability to create compositions that beg to be listened to one more time. And by viscerally expressing the type of distress that will bring you to your knees, the Districts have created a bold, tempestuous sound that stays with you.
Walking onstage dressed in matching yellow and black bowling shirts, the five members of Deer Tick were greeted by rabid applause the very second their feet made contact with the stage. And while singer/guitarist John McCauley, bassist Chris Ryan, drummer Dennis Ryan, lead guitarist Ian O’Neil and keyboardist Rob Crowell would perform in New York for an additional two nights, this would be the only time they would appear as “DEERVO.”
“Tonight is one of the strangest decisions we’ve ever made as a band. Alright, let’s keep it going…”
Playing six consecutive shows to commemorate their ten years as a group, Deer Tick chose to begin five of their six nights at the Brooklyn Bowl by playing other people’s music. NRBQ’s Tiddlywinks, Lou Reed’s Transformer, The Beatles’ Meet the Beatles and Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True all came before and after Monday night’s performance of Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! Symbolizing a different facet of their own music’s personality and character, each iconic album was carefully selected by each member of the group. And by playing songs they first discovered in their youth, Deer Tick celebrated their influences while simultaneously supplying their fans with a live-action portrait of how their own band came to be.
Framed by the colorful lettering of a “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY” banner, Deer Tick excitedly began their set with a note-for-note cover of Devo’s 1978 debut album. And though Devo was a surprising choice for the rock band to cover, McCauley and his band mates emulated the group’s icy, robotic vocals and punchy melodies with a palpable energy and humor that flourished with every song. Although the most surreal moment of the night came when the Districts joined them onstage to play Devo’s cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” by the Rolling Stones. Purposely avoiding the fuzz-box guitar and garage rock spirit of the original, Devo’s chosen arrangement can feel decidedly stunted and eccentric by comparison. Embracing the peculiar, both bands exchanged smiles while gleefully performing the unusual interpretation of the famed Stones composition. And while Deer Tick’s first set of the night established a celebratory tone, it was also instrumental in revealing the remarkable range and ambition required to cover songs that sound nothing like your own.
John McCauley’s hoarse, sand paper vocals have always instilled Deer Tick’s music with an air of ragged charm and candid truth. War Elephant, Born on Flag Day, The Black Dirt Sessions, Divine Providence and Negativity all experiment with a contrasting sound and aesthetic, yet they remain bound by a deluge of stinging reflection and unflinching declaration. Musically rooted in rock, blues and country, Deer Tick’s continued musical development and maturation have seen them expand on themes of longing, regret and unease. With each new record they grow another limb, pairing the lyrically poetic with a near punk sensibility that is wholly capable of uprooting everything.
After a brief intermission, Deer Tick returned to the stage. As the venue’s disco ball spun color and emotion on the floor and walls, the dark, frantic notes of “Easy,” made it clear that “DEERVO” was no more. Stepping towards his mic, McCauley snarled:
“Out the door, with the Devil in my eyes
That son of a bitch crossed me once, but he won’t cross me twice.”
Capturing the cresting anger and alarming despondency that can accompany gross misfortune, “Easy,” possesses a frightening tone and spiraling melody. And while Deer Tick has always displayed an aptitude for balancing doleful placidity with caustic verve, the twin performances of “The Dream’s In The Ditch,” and “In Our Time,” highlighted their ability to drift out of the dark and into the light. Instrumentally, the songs experiment with a breezy, polished sound that still manages to fit alongside the blues-tinged country of their earliest work.
Joining the band onstage for “In Our Time,” was singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton. Guest vocalist on the song’s recorded version and McCauley’s real life wife, she appeared alongside her husband and his band dressed in the same yellow bowling shirt that they all wore. But before beginning the performance, a very-pregnant Carlton stopped to congratulate the group on reaching such a milestone birthday. After saying “Thank you,” McCauley paused before leaning into his microphone, taking it all in with utter disbelief:
“A whole decade of this shit!”
And by playfully honoring their ten-year anniversary as a band, McCauley and the group he founded turned a series of concerts into an exercise in the stately and sublime, etching into stone a shared celebration between artist and fan.
Article by: Caitlin Phillips