Deer Tick, Islington Assembly Hall, London, 30th January 2018

Like any band that has been playing together for over a decade Deer Tick have seen an evolution of their music, most strikingly laid out on their recent eponymous twin album release which share common artwork of a pair of condiment jars, with the mood of the two albums split between the folkier and more acoustic “ketchup” and the electric flair of “mustard“. New albums always shape a band’s set, even more so with a double albums worth. Deer Tick’s solution to keeping a balanced set list when they have so much new material also shapes the structure of the gig itself. Simply put, there’s too many songs to jam into an hour and a half of playing, so Deer Tick chose to act as their own support giving themselves two set lists and that much more time to ensure a good balance of the old and the new. No-one could be disappointed by this – acting as one’s
own support band is always a neat trick to pull, well, as long as the audience are in on the event. Casually wandering onto the stage, plugging in and opening proceedings with a couple of new tracks can also mean that it takes a while for parts of the audience to catch-on, and this more acoustic and folky take on Deer Tick who acted as the opening act certainly had a lot of audience chat to contend with. So it was a little surprising when Ian O’Neil thanked the audience for their quiet attention, commenting that in the States for this part of the gig they’d have just been talked over. This could have been irony, of course.

Songs featuring acoustic guitars, upright bass, mandolin, and whistles on paper sounds like pure folk – but it’s folk with a rock attitude. Card House is astonishingly catchy, almost klezmer like, with the melody weaving back and forth with the tempo changes. It uses childish pettiness as a metaphor for destructive, and vindictive, tendencies “once you put the roof on the top of your card house – I’ll make all the walls fall down” John McCauley spitefully declares before adding “you can sail away on the finest timbers – I can run your ship aground”. The dusty and lightly jazzy Cocktail rolls along like a sequence from No Country For Old Men – all laid back, and louche in outlook it’s a retreat from emotion into the seductive arms of ethanol based consolation. If a tumbleweed were to roll slowly across the stage as McCauley sings “in my meandering way I’d sing a serenade – and sip a cocktail / My very own world view I’d tell the people I knew – through a cocktail” it would really be no surprise. This opening set took a harder turn as it edged towards its conclusion, hinting at the full electric set to come with a heavy Mange showing quite clearly the next direction. The band’s two guitarists enjoyed acoustic guitar posturing antics which started as amusing before moving to respect as the upright chord striking continued in perfect synchronicity, but it was Dennis Ryan’s extended drum solo that really impressed, whilst clean-cut Christopher Ryan kept up a relentless bass accompaniment. Like an interloper dropped into the band he makes being effortlessly cool seem…effortless.

And, after a short interval, we moved from the smooth and sweet realms of ketchup to the stinging of mustard. Don’t Hurt is a punchy slice of rock veering to the anthemic, celebrating, amongst other things, the redemptive pleasures of guitars played loud, bass played low and drums played hard “come on John sing a stupid song you can fake the whole way through / don’t you want to escape and make your own fate and fade into the Blue ?”. It can be safely be stated that this was indeed the prevailing mood of the majority of the audience. Jumpstarting strips the sound back to a single incessant guitar riff, whilst Twenty Miles brings in a softer, rootsier rock – gently swaying back to the girl who gives direction to life. Things don’t stay calm and gentle for too long – Look how clean I am is glam-rock meets tongue-in-cheek post-grunge whilst Wants / Needs shouts out the differences between superficial desires and a deeper desire to fix a damaged self, wrapping up the message in evermore ludicrous contrasts. Good times – bad times, compare and contrast these on the express train rolling Tiny Fortunes and see that they can be the same thing, at the same time – just depends where you’re looking from. It’s an energetic and revitalising set with an extended encore finally brought to a conclusion with the strangely warped benediction of You are so Beautiful. More irony ? Perhaps – but Deer Tick had already made a strong case that the musical evolution that has brought them to Ketchup and Mustard has also delivered something of a career high.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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