Deer Tick and Delta Spirit Keep the Rock and Roll FriendSHIP Sailing Along in Portland, OR (SHOW REVIEW)

The worlds of Deer Tick and Delta Spirit have coalesced many times throughout the years, most notably in the Middle Brother folk-rock project that featured each of the band’s respective front men along with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. Each band also started around the same time and came up as part of a wave of indie rock acts that enjoyed album-driven success just before the Spotify era. Given these factors, it seemed only fitting that Deer Tick and Delta Spirit would join forces for a co-headlining aptly named “FriendSHIP Tour” and on Saturday, November 6th, they came to the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. 

With their last full collection of new songs dropping over two years ago, Deer Tick would lean less on new material than on taking the audience through some of their best-known songs. The band seemed to be in a particularly nostalgic mood, with front man John McCauley mentioning that they were celebrating both the tenth anniversary of their album Divine Providence as well as their sixteen years as a band. Touring as a stripped down four-piece just like their early days, the rough and rowdy Rhode Islanders would play a few songs off that album alongside plenty of other favorites. Highlights of the set included an upbeat “Dream’s in the Ditch,” the heart-warming ode to dog love “Me and My Man” complete with a heavy metal outro, the new 70s boogie rock track “If She Could Only See Me Now,” and the big-hearted barroom folk rocker “Hope is Big” that featured McCauley laying down a soaring electric guitar solo that sounded like an Irish jig given prog rock treatment. Another poignant moment came when McCauley began the emotionally dark “Christ Jesus” accompanied by only his piano and a bottle of bourbon, belting out the lyrics with gritty abandon before the band returned to take the song into electrified oblivion. The band kept the energy going with the bouncy punk-pop tune “Look How Clean I Am, the always moving “Smith Hill,” and a hugely dramatic “Crying Shame” that had the audience singing in delight. Though Deer Tick have long been known for their drunken antics, this set found the band extremely tight, well-rehearsed, and not the least bit sloppy like the days of lore as they let their songs shine. 

Helmed by the sparkly and always energetic Matthew Logan Vasquez, Delta Spirit took the stage with a grandiose sound that felt suited for arenas while maintaining indie rock cool. Their 2008 debut Ode to Sunshine conjured plenty of memories for the audience going back to the blogger rock days of the early aughts, though they would also include a couple songs from their 2020 album What Is There among others. Songs like “Parade,” “Tear It Up,” and “Into the Wide” would showcase huge drum blasts and swelling, jagged guitar as Vasquez serenaded the crowd with his sly charm. Throughout their career-spanning set, the members of Delta Spirit exuded a frenetic and exhilarating presence that constantly flirted with chaos without ever losing control. Watching them perform one soaring, infectious tune after another, one couldn’t help but wonder why they never made it to the arena level despite being so well-suited. 

Onstage in Portland, each band delivered the kind of well-oiled sets that show these friends are growing older and more mature. Deer Tick’s gritty and sometimes humorous approach to rock and roll served as the perfect contrast to Delta Spirit’s more pop and indie-inflected rock. By the time members of Deer Tick joined Delta Spirit for a couple of Middle Brother tunes, the sense of camaraderie was palpable and the audience was left with the feeling that their friendship and music is timeless. 

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