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Tuesday, 05 November 2013 08:55

Concert review: Deer Tick (with Robert Ellis) whips up a rowdy night at the Firebird, Sunday, November 3

Concert review: Deer Tick (with Robert Ellis) whips up a rowdy night at the Firebird, Sunday, November 3 facebook.com/deertick
Written by Nathan Brand
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Serving up a cocktail of grunge-infused rock 'n' roll with a dash of swampy twang, Deer Tick assured fans at the Firebird that Monday morning was no reason to hold back on a Sunday night.

As patrons filed in, greeting familiar faces on their way to the bar, conversation about the new album and tour buzzed. An unlit neon sign reading "Negativity" hung from the rafters above the stage.

The room was near half full when opening act, Robert Ellis, took the stage with a joyous "hello." An old, hollow-body guitar hung from his neck by a black leather strap. Bordered with golden trim, the strap was adorned with his name written in blue stitching. To his right sat Will Van Horn behind his pedal steel guitar.

Beginning with an old-fashioned country love song, the duo managed to woo the crowd almost instantly. The crowd remained quiet, however, until after the next song, "Coming Home," finished with a fiery guitar outro.

About halfway through his set, Ellis confessed, "I wouldn't know what day of the week it was if it wasn't for all of the bars and restaurants being closed. What's there to do around here on a Sunday, if you like to party?"

A fan quickly suggested her apartment. He politely assured her that she did not want them coming to her home before announcing the next song was about infidelity. "Good Intentions" gave a taste of Ellis's heavier side before his full band joined him on stage.

"We're just going to jam for the next three hours" Ellis joked. "This is a Phish song."

Utilizing the recently added rhythm section, the band cranked up the energy. A handful of songs later, Ellis called Deer Tick's Ian O'Neil to the stage to help them cover Kris Kristofferson's, "Help Me Make It Through the Night."

Following a roaring exchange of guitar solos, Ellis announced his last song, "Sing Along," about growing up in the Bible Belt. A meandering noise intro morphed into a sizzling psycho-country jam. As the band finished and waved farewell, new fans of the band threw their raucous approval at the stage.

As the stage was being set for Deer Tick to begin, the "Negativity" neon buzzed to life. Fans crowded outside to smoke while the enormous line at the bar continued to grow. As the stage neared completion, a final touch was needed. Booze. An open bottle of wine was placed atop the bass amp. After all, what's a rock show without fine wine?

Deer Tick arrived moments later looking like that was probably not the first bottle of the evening. Most notably, singer John McCauley, two beers in hand, looked like he had just finished filming as the mascot in a new Dirt Cheap commercial.

Chicken suit accounted for, McCauley confirmed that drummer, Dennis Ryan was here this time. Ryan was unable to play Deer Tick's last St. Louis show.

The band began with McCauley repeating the soft opening lines from "The Rock," the first track on the band's new album. McCauley, seated behind a keyboard, rose as the bass rolled the song into full tilt. Next up was, "Main Street."

"I wanted to wear this outfit before Halloween," he said, "but we had to cancel some shows. So, I wore it on November 1 and have worn it at every show since." McCauley paused briefly to explain his fashion choice. "If you want to know how to rock 'n' roll, this is one way."

McCauley followed with another new track, "Curtain Call." At Deer Tick's Vintage Vinyl in-store acoustic performance earlier, he explained that this song was his big middle finger to the record industry. His voice strained as he shouted, "I don't want to be your bargaining chip."

Finishing with a fury, McCauley moved back behind the piano. Keeping in line with the new album, the band transitioned directly into "Just Friends." Storytelling has always been a gift of McCauley's. As he hunched over the 88 black and white keys, the influence of fellow story teller, piano man, Billy Joel, was obvious.

"We made a music video for this next song." McCauley moved back to his center mic. "We spent hours jumping around in a white limousine. We were so sore the next day."

As the band launched into "The Dream's in the Ditch," the crowd went into motion, either dancing to the music or wandering to the bar for another round.

An astounding saxophone solo segued into a jazzy interlude before fans were treated to a couple of favorites from the band's debut, "War Elephant."

Following "Baltimore Blues No. 1," the crowd was beginning to get worked up. The band made sure to level out the mood with the sad, slow closer from "Negativity." By the time "Big House" was finished, the hushed crowd patiently waited for the band's next move.

The country strumming of "Clowning Around" began. The drummer, Ryan, moved his microphone closer to his face as he began singing. "Though I've walked down a crooked path, that don't mean it wasn't cursed."

The band followed up with a pair of their more down-trodden tracks before getting lost in another psychedelic transition into "Mange." Gradually building into a high-voltage rock 'n' roll freakout, including a chicken dance from McCauley, the band earned its loudest cheers of the night thus far.

McCauley announced that the band was starting something new tonight. "Dear Tick" was an idea in which fans drop anonymous questions in a box for the band to answer in the show. I missed the answer session unfortunately, but made it back in time to hear a personal favorite, "Spend the Night."

Moving back to "Negativity," McCauley laid down a searing solo for "Mr. Sticks." "Thyme" was next. Once again the drummer took lead vocals as McCauley mostly contributed his raspy howl.

Following up was arguably the biggest fan favorite, "Dirty Dishes." Beginning with just a single electric guitar and vocals, the crowd sang along from the very first words. The band finished with McCauley leading the a cappella rendition as it sang the final line, "Oh, things could be so much worse."

The crowd continued to applaud as McCauley announced the band's Lou Reed tribute.

"Rest in peace, Lou Reed," McCauley toasted before launching into "Hanging Around."

After the crowd's wild cheers subsided, McCauley announces, "This next song is about a woman that I used to lay."

Robert Ellis came on stage and borrowed Ian O'Neil's guitar for "Miss K." McCauley bounced back and forth between guitar and keys as he and Ellis dueled. The properly sauced crowd counted to 12 at McCauley's direction before the continuing collage of solos ceased.

"I'm gonna do one of my old tricks. It's not as impressive as what I could do, but I might get arrested." McCauley paused before picking the intro of "In Our Time." The song closed with a charming whistle solo from McCauley.

Following an excellently reckless performance of "The Bump," the band dropped into the heavy-as-hell intro of "Pot of Gold." Deconstructing into resonating chaos, the band left its instruments and walked off stage.

But of course the party wasn't over. After a few moments the hype man came out.

"Goddamn, St. Louie! Ya'll having a good time or what?"

Roaring chants of Deer Tick drew the band back to the stage.

McCauley, chicken suit half off, thanked the city for being incredible and played a brief version of the duck dance song before donning the band's alter-ego, Deervana.

In full grunge mode, the band slid lazily into "Pennyroyal Tea," before letting the howling chorus drift into oblivion. Pulling everything back together, the minor key piano intro of "These Old Shoes" brought the crowd back into sing along mode. The audience roared in unison, "It was a no go for this hobo!"

After teasing a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," McCauley calmly began "Ashamed." Clocking in at just over two minutes, the crowd swooned along with the romantic short story. A final token of the band's gratitude was offered before the band tilted its bottles to the ceiling. McCauley cleared his throat before slamming into the drunken anthem "Let's All Go to the Bar."

Movement in the crowd was as close to a mosh pit as it had been all night. Fists and drinks flew over head as the room grew rowdier with every note. Feedback swelled, the hype man screamed and the band finally slid off stage.

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