In Case of Emergency: Add Brown Liquor

August 16th, 2010

Deer Tick – Webster Hall – August 13, 2010

Friday the Thirteenth proved to be a lucky night to be at Webster Hall. The crowd enthusiastically greeted Delta Spirit frontman Matt Vasquez (“I’m not anything without my band”) as he opened with a short set of his own songs plus covers of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Neil Young. Then, playing their last U.S. show before heading overseas next month, Deer Tick was fittingly welcomed to the stage with an air horn. The Providence, R.I., quintet went right into “Choir of Angels,” the opening track from their terrific new album, The Black Dirt Sessions.

The disc is notable for a change in Deer Tick personnel, with guitarist Ian O’Neil, formerly of Titus Andronicus, and keyboardist Rob Crowell joining the band. O’Neil is a big addition with his songwriting (“Hope Is Big”), singing and frenetic guitar playing, clearly evident onstage during “Baltimore Blues No. 1,” which has been reworked with Christopher Ryan’s ’50s-coffehouse-bassline opening. Crowell’s influence was most obvious on an ambling version of “Ashamed,” as he effortlessly shifted from keys to sax mid-song (while ringleader John McCauley slid from crooner mode to keys player) as the crowd throatily sang the chorus.

Of course McCauley, his voice endearingly ragged on “Christ Jesus,” was his usual engaging presence, cracking jokes, singing to girls and sharing his bottle of Jack with the audience—plus he even played a little air horn when just he and drummer Dennis Ryan returned to the stage following the encore break. The other guys eventually joined them on an upbeat “Easy.” And then as people sprayed band-supplied Silly String into the air, it seemed like the show would close with the rambling honky-tonk of “Mange,” but the group responded to the loud crowd and returned with one more, a heartfelt a cappella “Dirty Dishes” before closing out their tour. Look out, Europe: Deer Tick is coming. —R. Zizmor