In 2011 the two musical stars of Philthy were the hyper-conceptual and socio-politically confrontational Atari Teenage Riot and the, somewhat less-likely (considering the “Music Department and Features Editor”’s, background is in semiotics and postmodern art), Deer Tick, the alt.-country-by-way-of-reckless-punk-abandon project of John McCauley. Their last LP, Divine Providence, released in October of last year, prompted me to publish sentiments such as, “This might be the greatest album I’ve ever heard. Sorry, John and Lou.” And of the album’s most powerful track, “Clownin Around,” a song written from the perspective of history’s most disturbingly prolific clown, John Wayne Gacy, “The most biting and brilliant country ballad since Townes Van Zandt’s ‘No Place to Fall,’” (And offense can be taken when I say that, in terms of pop songs delving into the minds of serial killers, it makes “Helter Skelter” sound like the theme song to The Magic School Bus.) Well, they’re at it again. In February they released a free EP, Tim, comprised of songs originally scrapped for Divine Providence (In all fairness, they’re not as good as the songs that made the record.), and this past Sunday they provided one of the best musical experiences to hit Philly this year.
Sunday, April 22nd, saw two tours meeting at Philthy’s latest musical hotspot for possibly the most shit-kickin’ show the city will see for years to come. Deer Tick and openers Turbo Fruits (Jonas Stein of Be Your Own Pet, doing the whole garage country thing… which he has actually been doing for years now.) joining alt country SUPERSTARS Lucero, along with their openers, J. Roddy Walston and The Business. Although I would have rather seen Deer Tick and Turbo Fruits alone, in the basement of the quite-a-bit-more-intimate First Unitarian Church (which was the original plan), Deer Tick’s 45-minute set was pretty fucking hard to complain about.
Now Deer Tick aren’t necessarily “mind-blowing” performers. McCauley and crew aren’t exactly “charismatic” in the traditional sense of the word… And they certainly haven’t caused anyone to re-evaluate the criteria by which they consider live music… But that kind of seems to be the point. And, that being said, they’re pretty much the greatest and least lame of all American “blue collar” Rock’N’Roll bands… And spending the night getting drunk, loud, and rowdy with these five guys is likely a much better time than getting drunk, loud, and rowdy with anyone programmed into your cell phone.
The five guys took the stage in proudly tacky matching suits and in a very “punk,” deal-with-the-circumstances-you’re-dealt manner, managed to pack almost 15 of their crassest numbers into less than an hour. They kicked off with “The Bump,” John’s Introduction and theme music, which more or less establishes that, if he seems to be a hot, drunken mess, it’s only because he is… and he is well aware of it. Despite the recently released EP, the band only performed one of its four new tracks, “Walls.” They also avoided too much of their earlier work, playing only four pre-Divine Providence tracks (including three from their debut, 2007’s War Elephant.) Although there were fans who would have seemed to have liked the band to dig a little deeper, I was happy not to be bogged down with the first three LPs, which would seem to lack the potency of Divine Providence: the country just wasn’t alt enough and the grain was severely over-polished.
The set resembled that of the band’s area appearance last October at UPenn’s Harrison Auditorium… You know, except not in the seated auditorium of an Ivy League school. It was largely focused on the band’s best work to date and included their touching homage to Pogo the Clown, along with some of Divine Providence’s rowdier numbers, such as latest single “Main Street,” the garage-rocking “Something To Brag About,” and “Let’s All Go to the Bar,” the band’s defining anthem, which closed their set. However, my one complaint about the band’s last area appearance was the absence of the ballad “Now It’s Your Turn,” which I swear they found in a box of old Guns N’ Roses demos somewhere. I expressed my sorrow at the void in said show in a review, characterizing the song as “Reminiscent of the most poignant of Sunset strippers at their most pensive (see: A shirtless, chapped Slash chainsmoking atop the Hollywood Hills, sharing an intimate moment with his Les Paul.)” Well, it was present-in and the-highlight-of Sunday night, when the band churned out a rendition of the ballad even more epic than that found on the album… Well, maybe not, but when John climbed the bass drum for his Slash-esque solo it sure as fuck felt that way.