For the past 12 years, the idea of Americana has been warped by the raucous sounds of Deer Tick, the folk-tinged quintet led by the over-the-top ringmaster, John McCauley. Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, Deer Tick has quickly become a staple in New England with their modern take on folk rock while interjecting a sense of off-key humor.
After years of touring in sold-out clubs across the globe, the bad boys of Providence have decided to scale down their elaborate, physically-demanding shows in favor of a stripped down “Acoustick” tour that emphasizes the mellow nature of the band rather than their unhinged persona. Fortunately, I took this opportunity the moment the tour was announced and a Hartford stop at the Infinity Hall this past Saturday was announced.
Upon entering the venue, the bareness of the stage was the most intimidating factor as I was used to an abundance of equipment and electronics that came with all the Deer Tick shows I’ve seen previously. Fortunately, I arrived early enough to the venue to be right alongside the edge of the stage and at the foot of the dynamic duo of McCauley and lead guitarist, Ian O’Neill.
Mutual Benefit, the opener for the evening and for the first half of the tour, kicked off the evening with a psychedelic-tinged flair with splashes of folk for good measure that sounded like a southern Tame Impala. Jordan Lee, the lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, quipped with the audience as the crowd energized the group to move past their nervous, distant attitude.
Though when push came to shove, Mutual Benefit pushed the notions of psychedelic folk rock as they delved into the newly released “Not for Nothing,” as well as classics from their 2013 effort, “Love’s Crushing Diamond,” which included the likes of “Golden Wake” and “Strong River.” After some minor heckling from the crowd (one man kept asking, “What year is that Fender from?”), Mutual Benefit took no prisoner as they kept the crowd entertained until the last note of their 40-minute set.
Once McCauley opened a cold bottle of Coors Light and Deer Tick took the stage, the group was all business. McCauley led the group through a rendition of the fan-favorite “Twenty Miles” to open the show, rekindling fond memories of “The Black Dirt Sessions,” an album practically crafted for this form of show. Unfortunately, the crew drew only two numbers from the aforementioned album, including “Mange,” a jam session that drew the main set to a close as drummer Dennis Ryan took out the group in an onslaught of percussive joy.
The real stars of the evening, however, were the rarities that aren’t often seen during Deer Tick’s live sets, despite the “Acoustick” tour maintaining a stagnant setlist every night. O’Neill took his hand at the seldom played “Hope is Big,” a spiritual southern successor to the Rolling Stones’ 1971 track, “I Got The Blues.” “Nevada,” another rarity, struck a chord with the audience as McCauley yearned in his raspy desperation for a lost love.
While maintaining a sense of fan service, Deer Tick unfortunately did not take any requests during the course of the evening, but instead packed the set with enticing acoustic renditions of classics including the charmful southern ballad “Art Isn’t Real (City of Sin)” and an emotional take of “Christ Jesus” that had the audience on the verge of tears as McCauley painfully wooed through the chorus. Deer Tick also managed to bring pieces to life acoustically from their most recent effort, “Negativity,” including a triad of “The Rock,” “Thyme” and “Hey Doll,” which McCauley joked that two songs alone would create positivity and an idea for a pretty interesting experimental album.
For quite a while away, three years to be precise, Deer Tick fans have been clamoring for the next record and the group didn’t disappoint as they offered a sampling of tracks of what is to come. “Only Love” came across as a glorified ballad that left little to be desired, but when the group busted out the Jimmy Buffet influenced number, “Cocktail,” I knew there was something special to come from this upcoming record, which is heavily rumored to be coming this year.
As the night came to a close and a lengthy encore was inevitable as many hits were not yet played, Deer Tick did not disappoint as they ran through hits such as 2013’s “The Dream’s in the Ditch,” The Rolling Stones-inspired “Main Street” and the ultimate Deer Tick classic, “Ashamed.” When it was time to call it a night, McCauley and the gang turned off their table lamps and exited to what had been a generally enthusiastic show that exemplified the best of the folk side of the titular Deer Tick. Deer Tick will continue to tour under the “Acoustick” tour through April while leaving their summer open to hopely close the last sessions of recording their upcoming release.