Four years is a long time to wait for a band to release a new album. Rhode Island rockers Deer Tick understand this, which is why they gifted their fans with not one but two full-length albums after a four-year gap. The new albums, aptly titled Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2, feature two sides of the band. The first is an acoustic collection that captures their softer side and highlights the thoughtful songwriting of frontman John McCauley, while the second is electric and hones in on the scruffy bar band roots rock that has won the band so many fans over the years. One might expect some duds from such a large collection of songs coming all at once, but that’s not the case with Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Luckily for the fans, the band is highlighting both sides of themselves on their current tour, which features an acoustic set and electric set just like the new album, and of which hit Portland’s Wonder Ballroom on Sunday, November 5th.
Following a short set by comedian Jena Friedman, the members Deer Tick calmly took the stage with acoustic instruments. The crowd seemed eager to see how these notoriously hard-partying rockers would stay so subdued, and were immediately pleased when they opened with the acoustically picked heartfelt favorite “Art Isn’t Real”. Beers were raised to “Cocktail”, one of the best songs on the new album with its tale of mellowing out the craziness. “Miss K.” tapped into a catchy, light-hearted mood before the gritty folk of “Smith Hill”, the latter of which McCauley played with a small flute for added emotion. He would go full Bob Dylan with his harmonicawhile Ian O’Neil handled vocals on “Hope Is Big”. One of the heaviest and most beautiful moments of the night came when McCauley reflected on the mass shooting in Texas that had occurred that day before dedicating a cover of Ben Vaughn’s soulful “Too Sensitive For This World” to his recently departed friend Jeff Pettit. Without ever losing momentum, the band pushed ahead with a handful of songs off their new album, 2013’s Negativity and 2010’s The Black Dirt Sessions, sipping beers and wine and drawing attention to the nuances in their songs and lyrics.
Set two would start on a high with the Springsteen-esque triumphant rocker “Don’t Hurt” and infectious power pop tune “Jumpstartin’” before drummer Dennis Ryan swooned with his beautifully haunting ode to addiction “Clownin’ Around”. “The Bump” contrasted as a romping and crashing anthem dedicated to partying with plenty of boogie piano. The crowd went wild when the band took a turn down memory lane with songs like “Easy” and “These Old Shoes” (complete with Black Sabbath teases), sandwiching the punky dive bar rockers “Tiny Fortune” and “It’s a Whale”.
Before the night was over, Deer Tick would also pay tribute to the likes of The Ramones (“Let’s Dance”), Nick Lowe (“Peace, Love & Understanding”) and Joe Cocker (“You Are So Beautiful”), perfectly illustrating their influences of punk, pop and soulful rock and roll. In a way, Deer Tick have always been the modern version of the Replacements in that they are too talented for their own damn good but tend to tie one on live. In Portland on Sunday it was clear that not only has their sound proven to be timeless, but that, unlike the Replacements, Deer Tick have persevered and intend to rock for a whole lot longer.