It’s Deer Tick’s first visit to Ireland in four years. The band are due on at 21:15 but after the support act, Joanna Barbera, plays the lights go out. It seems like it’s a very specific band request to add atmosphere but, after 15 minutes, a venue official takes to the stage to tell us that the power is out in this area of Dublin and is not expected back on until at least 22:00. The band themselves emerge from the gloom, by the light of a smartphone, to apologise for the delay and promise us a full set.
By request or not, we have been granted a unique gig with a special atmosphere. Electric Ireland are shockingly efficient and get the juice back on before 10. The band are out sharpish and dive straight into things. Guitarist Ian Patrick O'Neil says that they were considering doing a fully acoustic set if the outage continued. John McAuley, O'Neil, and drummer Dennis Michael Ryan each take the lead on a song to kick off the set before all four approach the mics with some impressive and uplifting harmonies. They’ve just released a cover of The Pogues’ ‘White City’ recorded with Spider Stacy and they play it with the verve that this crowd would expect from their ex-pat brethren.
McAuley has claimed in the past that his musical awakening came through Hank Williams and it shows. Country music is big in Ireland but it is far from cool, yet this band hit all the right notes. More importantly, they avoid playing all the wrong ones. Even with the Mustang guitar strapped on and playing a ballad, McAuley sings without the painfully stereotypical country twang. Stripped of that affectation, songs that might come across as clichéd instead sound heartfelt. The slight growl in his throat illustrates why he was chosen for the one-night-only Nirvana reunion this year. The voice is lived-in and the approach is fresh.
O'Neil swaps his axe for a mandolin without sacrificing the vibe. He discusses how his grandfather arrived in Massachusetts and “I guess they stole one of the L’s from O'Neil” but how “this year I got my dual citizenship and they gave it back for my Irish passport.” It’s the most Irish thing I’ve heard an American say and it’s clear that this band belong here. During the intro to ‘Look How Clean I Am’, McAuley picks up his beer bottle with his mouth and downs it to great applause.
When people talk about Deer Tick, they often speak of the duality of their music. Maybe it’s more pronounced on their albums but there is no obvious dichotomy in their live set. There are moments in their jams when they sound like The Stone Roses or Michael Jackson but nonetheless there is a consistency to their sound and a universality to their performance that is undeniable. What’s really strange is that with the harmonies, the stylistic approach and, particularly, with the mandolin, this is exactly the type of band that my mother brought me to see as a child but updated with 30 intervening years of musical evolution integrated into the set. This is a group of excellent musicians doing what comes naturally. Deer Tick are that rare band that are super cool, with their finger on the pulse, but you could bring your parents to see them and everyone would enjoy it.