|Photos by Justin Weber|
The young band members looked to be barely out of high school and they played with the kind of energy that’s only powered by youth. They pushed each of their songs to the max, striving to be epic, without much of a break. Lead singer Rob Grote leads the charge with his exaggerated failing and stumbling, but all of the band members were letting their bodies take over. There were a few instances they were lucky to not run into each other.
The Districts have a decent since of melody and more than a passing sonic resemblance to The Walkmen at times. The potential is there and the band seemed to make some new fans based on the reactions of the crowd.
The main attraction of the night was Langhorne Slim and his backing band The Law despite him being second on the bill. The Ballroom did not sell out the show, but it was at its fullest during Slim and the crowd that packed the front row since the doors opened talked eagerly about Slim. The woman next to me playfully threatened to elbow me should I get in the way of her seeing Slim while I was taking pictures (she later assured me this was just a joke while gushing about The Law’s banjo player, David Moore).
Slim started his set solo before bringing up The Law and tearing off his jacket to reveal an intricately decorated vest. His performance was nicely balanced between the emotional folk he’s known best for and the raucous, hard-charging country rock that appears on his latest album, The Way We Move. It’s a welcome spilt. Slim knows how to get an audience moving and he frequently encouraged the crowd to dance. When he slows things down, he draws the crowd in with a story. Before “Song for Sid”, he told the audience about the grandfather he wrote it for and dedicated it him. The audience swooned.
Slim finished his set with “Past Life” while he rode on the shoulders of a man in the audience. The Ballroom’s disco ball came on and it was clear that this is a man who really loves his audience.
While The Districts had their youthful enthusiasm and Langhorne Slim his unique outlaw lothario vibe, there’s nothing to really set Deer Tick apart. Maybe that’s why people started gradually leaving after Slim finished. The Ballroom was only about half full during the final set of the night.
Deer Tick seems to try for a bar band appeal and their music combines so many Americana and rock and roll elements that it becomes watered down and indistinguishable. To add to the effect, the band revels in stereotypical rockstar behavior like opening beer bottles with teeth, spitting beer onto the crowd, and plenty of masturbatory guitar playing while on a knee or two.
All of it felt forced, like they’re trying to recreate a rock and roll ideal that doesn’t exist anymore. That ideal doesn’t exist because it’s been done over and over. It’s boring. If a band doesn’t try to expand on that ideal it's hopelessly nostalgic at best and incestuous and insular at worst.
They move quickly from one song to the next and their set list was balanced between their five albums and a few covers. The one new song they played — presumably titled "Shitty Music Festival" based on the chorus — missed the mark with the audience. After the song, front man John McCauley asked the crowd if they shared his opinion only to get silence and one lone dissent.
Deer Tick played well, in terms of their execution. They sounded like a bigger, more energetic version of their records; however, it's hard divorce the execution from what’s actually being played or the attitude of the band that’s playing it when judging the show.
The Districts set list
Langhorne Slim and The Law set list
Two Crooked Hearts
Song for Sid
The Way We Move
Deer Tick set list
These Old Shoes
The Dream’s In The Ditch
Baltimore Blues No. 1
Let’s All Go To The Bar
New Song (“Shitty Music Festival”)
Rocket In My Pocket (Little Feat cover)
She’s Not Spanish
Pennyroyal Tea (Nirvana cover)
Not So Dense
La Bamba (Ritchie Valens cover)
They All Asked For You