(Photo credit: Todd Gay and CPTV)
by Author Griffin (@AuthorGriffin)
It’s an odd thing to try and review a show when its the first time you’ve seen an act perform. Maybe it’s just that ‘review’ is the wrong word. I don’t feel rightly qualified to review the Deer Tick show I saw at Infinity Hall on 3/5 having seen no other Deer Tick shows for comparison. Plus who am I to pass judgement on any given artist’s offerings? It’s, none of it, wrong and its, none of it, right. It’s art, it just is. Take it or leave it, it speaks to you or it doesn’t, but believe me, this one spoke to me. That said, I’m going to make this a piece about what I look for and, more importantly, what I listen for when I see an act for the first time using this amazing Deer Tick performance as a case study.
Now I’ve seen a few shows in my time from a variety of artists. Counting the decade I worked for a regional New England touring act, it’s quite a few, actually. Less than some but more than most, and I’ve got the stubs so… yeah. They say that 10,000 hours spent on any one thing makes you an expert. In no way do I claim to be an expert in live music, I certainly don’t feel like one, but the math is close and its hard to argue the math. Stubs man, I’ve got the stubs. We’ll leave it at that.
I’ve only been listening to Deer Tick via online streaming for a few weeks now and I thought the tracks I’ve heard from both their fourth album ‘Divine Providence’ and their more recent release ‘Negativity’ were solid. It’s a skillfully-presented rough and haggard sound but it’s done with purpose and intention and I’m way into it.
One of the first things I strive to get a sense for when seeing an act play for the first time is authenticity, and Deer Tick is just that, authentic. And that authenticity speaks to people, you just can’t fake it. I spoke to fans there that had driven from Boston to catch this show. I saw New Hampshire license plates in the parking lot. Folks don’t drive for hours on a Wednesday to see just anyone. Authenticity is a powerful platform. For the chance at an authentic experience, to behold a genuine article, even for an evening, personally that’s what I’m after, and those in the know will tell you there are very few limits to the efforts they will make to those ends.
But effort, of course, is a two-way street. Nothing is less interesting to me than to see an act simply go through the motions. You catch enough shows and you start to get a real sense for the special ones, and this show was special. Deer Tick played a predominantly acoustic set, with front man John McCauley and guitarist Ian O’Neil seated on stools. The band made mention to the crowd that they had reworked many of the songs we were hearing for the night’s acoustic performance being taped for Infinity Hall Live (@ihltv) and it showed. As an aside, whenever you happen to catch any act on a night that they’ve really rehearsed for, a night for which they’ve put in the long practice time, for whatever reason, acoustic or other, it’s always a treat. You can hear it. What I saw and heard last Wednesday in Deer Tick’s Infinity Hall show was a band more accustomed to electric guitar, distortion and rock clubs that went out of their way to refine their sound for an evening, adding the subtleties of an acoustic show and softer but very powerful vocals to give us a more polished Deer Tick product. Classic in the classic sense. It was reminiscent of Nirvana’s ‘Unplugged in New York’ in the best way possible.
I heard some amazing electric-hinted acoustic versions of songs I knew, like ‘Baltimore Blues No. 1’ off of their debut album War Elephant, Divine Providence’s ‘Now It’s Your Turn’ and ‘Make Believe’ as well as cuts from Negativity like ‘The Curtain’ and ‘Mr. Sticks’. One of the highlights of the evening being when McCauley brought out a special guest, his wife Vanessa Carlton, to sing the duet ‘In Our Time’, the husband and wife on stage singing their own song, but still somehow conjuring the ghosts of Johnny and June. Very special.
To circle back to my original premise, I try to keep an open mind when seeing a first show. A cliche, sure, but I mean it in the ‘running an option route’ sense. I’m open, hit me! And Deer Tick did just that. I’m a fan and they’ll be on my concert schedule again soon, but the larger point here was that my opinion is irrelevant. I don’t care as much about what an act does or what musical wares they choose to peddle, I care that they care. Such as in life, whatever you do is fine as long as you try really hard to do it. It was obvious to me that Deer Tick went to great efforts to put on an amazing show that matched the effort their fan base made to be there. That’s all any fan can hope for, really. Those are the shows that I want to see and you should too.