Concert Review | Deer Tick at Off Broadway in Saint Louis

Photo by Katie Guymon

“I’m terribly sorry for your loss.”

These are the six words that concluded Deer Tick frontman John McCauley’s somber recognition of the late Dave Hagerty, vocalist/guitarist of the local Saint Louis band, Fattback. (Please read the touching obituary written by our friend, Christian Schaeffer, for A to Z, the music blog of The Riverfront Times). The band was meant to open last night’s show at Off Broadway, along with Dead Confederate. While McCauley’s mere mention of the tragedy that bestowed Hagerty’s family and friends only six days ago was suitably poignant, the right words to express his emotion seemed to narrowly escape him, and therefore, he took to his guitar to honor Hagerty with a song that McCauley explained is right for almost all occasions in life: marriage, death, and everything in between.

He played an electric solo of “Sleep Walk.” (You might know it from its frequent appearances in the film La Bamba). I’m not going to pretend that I knew him, but I have to say this song seemed to be a perfect tribute to the late Hagerty: raw, spontaneous, jabbing. The audience went silent, and everyone’s thoughts leaned the way McCauley hoped they would, intimate friends and complete strangers alike.

Video of “Sleep Walk” provided by 5 Score Pachyderm

Because of the melancholy that surrounded the night, Deer Tick eased into its set, initially playing mostly down tempo songs, including the band’s latest single “20 Miles” followed by “Smith Hill” off last year’s Born On Flag Day (but not before, of course, playing a few bars of Hanson’s “MMMBop!” first).

Deer Tick – 20 Miles

Video of “MMMBop” into “Smith Hill” provided by 5 Score Pachyderm:

But, as McCauley told his eager crowd at the start of the show, every time he comes to Saint Louis, there’s cause to party. (The last time the band came through, it was McCauley’s birthday, and he was smacked in the face by a broom handle after a late night attempt to pee on people. He acknowledged that the battle wound on his chin was well-deserved). Sensing that the band’s usual, ahem, merriment could not be suppressed for much longer, the crowd joyfully sang along with McCauley to “Dirty Dishes.” The noticeable emphasis on the lyric “Things could be so much worse…” was not unintentional. After all, we were gathered to celebrate.

Deer Tick – “Dirty Dishes”

McCauley paused for a moment to acknowledge absent guitarist, Ian O’Neil, who missed a plane from Chicago and didn’t make the show. He warned, “So, if it sounds a bit raw and naked [tonight]…deal with it.” The band then launched into a biting version of “When She Comes Home” from this year’s The Black Dirt Sessions. It was then that I realized his voice, known for its gruffness, began to sound more and more like the electric guitar around his neck: buzzing, humming, wailing.

Photo by Katie Guymon

The band covered The Replacements’ “Waitress in the Sky,” but shit really got rowdy with its version of ZZ Top’s of “Cheap Sunglasses,” an old standby for live Deer Tick shows at this point. McCauley donned those infamous white shades and wooed the crowd with his eyebrow gymnastics. All around the room, Stags were thrust into the air with cavalier abandon. McCauley then planted his tongue firmly down the keys player’s throat. So very punk rock!

Photo by Katie Guymon

Shortly after midnight, Deer Tick launched into “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” and the audience pleaded, “More cowbell!” when the band abruptly stopped. (That line, seriously, never gets old). The show ended with bloody knuckles and a Stag foam party for the front rows of the crowd. And McCauley explained that he thought Hagerty would have appreciated that display of exultant rejoicing.

The first time I caught Deer Tick in concert was when the band opened for Jenny Lewis at The Pageant last summer. After seeing the band last night in an exponentially more intimate venue, it’s clear that’s so much more its scene. McCauley is a talker; he wants to interact with his fellow revelers. He feeds off the energy of fans standing inches away. In the heat of a summer night, sweat and saliva should blend and bind us all together.

Given the circumstances of the evening, however, it was a different kind of show for me. Like I said before, I never knew Dave Hagerty, but it wasn’t hard to miss those who did. You could easily tell the difference between those who were carrying a weighty burden on their shoulders and those who were left to empathize.

Deer Tick made a lot of classy moves in the days after Hagerty’s death, leading up to last night’s concert at Off Broadway, including donating proceeds to benefit Hagerty’s family. But, I think the one that mattered most was simply putting on the kind of show the band always does: gritty, spirited, raucous. While it was difficult at times to take my eyes off Deer Tick’s onstage antics, I also paid close attention to the many brave faces swapping hugs and toasting to what I can only guess was Hagerty’s legacy, masking their shared loss for the time being with great music, which to me, translates directly to love.

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