Despite sweltering heat and scarce air conditioning, about 160 folks crammed into Phoenix's Modified Arts last night to watch the much-hyped Deer Tick as they rolled into town in their converted school bus to support their new record, Born on Flag Day. The boys, lead by singer/songwriter John McCauley, plowed through over an hours worth of tunes, mostly shirtless and with bluesy, bar-band gusto.
Deer Tick tour-mates Dawes joked about the insane heat as they started their set, with electric piano leading the band through a set of Tom Petty style roots pop, occasionally drifting into more dynamic, Drive-By Truckers terrain. Despite some snare drum malfunctions and brief pauses to borrow gear, the group held the attention of the crowd, who cheered enthusiastically as it was announced that Deer Tick would be up next.
Fresh off their AC-less bus, Deer Tick wasted no time giving the people exactly what they came for, offering up big doses of high intensity country-rock. A few songs in all but drummer Dennis Ryan had to discarded their shirts -- Ryan's Michael Jackson shirt suggested a lingering state of mourning for the King of Pop, one apparently too powerful to set aside his t shirt for comfort.
Occasional collaborator Liz Isenberg joined the boys on stage for a cover of John Prine's "Unwed Fathers" and album track "Friday XIII" and her gorgeous coo worked well with McCauley's sandpaper-pipes. When left to just his guitar and harmonica, McCauley recalled Nebraska-era Springsteen, but mostly the band stuck with heavy blues vamps, whiskey soaked sing-a-longs and even a "rock-tease" intro borrowed straight for Nirvana's "Come As You Are."
Gospel Claws took the stage second, living up to the "big tent revival" aspect of their name, staggering around with drunken street preacher intent on songs like "Roman Road," from their split 7 " with What Laura Says. Other songs showcased a more tongue-in-cheek theological approach, like "God Keeps Me Alive," featuring the tragically hilarious line "God keeps me alive, so he can laugh at my life." Newer songs like "Summer Nights Lakeside" found the band switching off on drums and guitar and crafting subtle dream-pop textures.
Last Night: Deer Tick at the Modified
Better Than: Deer Tick's take on Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls." I mean, I thought that song was a pretty good summer jam too, but McCauley's rougher-than-hell voice is far better suited to John "Cougar" Mellencamp's "Authority Song."
Personal Bias: I really wish Stateside could have made room on the bill for San Diego's The Donkeys, who played the Trunk Space on Sunday night and were stranded in town while their van's transmission got fixed. Their C.C.R. meets the V.U. vibe would have worked charmingly with the rest of the acts.
Random Fact: McCauley greeted fans in his underwear straight off of their AC-less "short bus," including one seemingly confused guy wearing a Lamb of God shirt.
By the Way: NBC's Brian Williams is pretty massive 'Tick fan.