While Brad Paisley was doing his honky-tonk thing at Wrigley Field Saturday night, a less sugary brand of country was shaking the walls of the Metro just a few blocks away, for an audience that liked their bar anthems with a little more backwoods grit.
Scott Lucas, of hometown heroes Local H, opened with backing band The Married Men, looking like Tim Robbins’ character, the cuckolded banker from The Shawshank Redemption. Starting with a slow-burning ’50s feel, the seven-piece dressed like 1920s outlaws but made ’90s music that played by the rules: slightly angsty alt-lite with a minor chord to twist the knife and a little lift to each chorus. Setting the tone for a night of incestuous guest spots, Deer Tick singer John McCauley got on stage for the final song to take over lead guitar duties. Lucas repeatedly intoned “Ain’t no grave that can hold my body down,” with nasty-good slide guitar backing that dared you to disagree. The unfortunately named Turbo Fruits overcame that moniker and bashed out garage rock that pulled from various decades of loud mischief. This was guitar crunch you could feel in your hips, and for one particularly monolithic stoner rock stomp, all front row heads were all banging in unison.
With the band’s name spelled out in lights behind them like some kind of Nixon-era variety show, opening song “Ashamed,” got the crowd wailing along with its instantly recognizable whoa-oh-ohhh chorus.
During “The Bump,” McCauley raised his guitar neck skyward as he sang “We’re full grown men/But we act like kids.” Indeed, they looked like kids playing dress up, donning vintage suits of varying fits like musically inclined used car salesmen—McCauley was the most ragged in a pink sport jacket). His thin mop of blond hair and big grin made him look a little like Matthew McConaughey’s dime store dirtbag in Dazed And Confused as he stuck his guitar neck into the audience for some guest fretwork during “Walkin’ Out That Door.”
Though the piano-led “Now It’s Your Turn” let keyboardist Robby Crowell shine, his contributions mostly got lost in the mix under that ringing guitar and some seriously muddied vocals, but this show was more like a party with some music in the background. The audience (which included local scuzz-rock duo White Mystery) were actively moving, mingling, dancing, cheering and bottoms-upping each other from the first chord to the last wave of feedback. Deer Tick have a new EP, Tim, and if that makes you think of The Replacements, that means it’s working: the back cover art mimics that of The ‘Mats’ Let It Be, with the band members’ faces slapped over the original mugs. Their newest LP, 2011’s Divine Providence, is a collection of boneheaded drinking songs by guys set on outdoing The Replacements at their favorite pastime. They never came off as a “brainy” band—no one’s going to confuse them with The Mars Volta—but the material from Divine Providence really simplifies their tears-and-whiskey formula.
Banter was slim, and often unintelligible (a bad vocal mix or slurred speech are equally likely reasons). What the audience could make out wasn’t always cheery. “This song is about your friends dying from shitty things like drugs,” singer said before “Main Street.” When it was drummer Dennis Ryan’s turn to sing, the guitarist from Turbo Fruits came out for a beer and backing vocals (in that order).
As the song finished, McCauley cracked open a beer with his teeth, spitting the cap into an audience eager for an authentic souvenir.
No encore for those hoping for a bathroom break, although McCauley’s solo song (an early Beatles melody complete with “Daydream Believer” whistling) allowed the band to take a load off. When the band returned, it was all hands on deck for five-man harmonies that obviously pleased the Fleet Foxes fans in the room.
It all began to drag around midnight, as songs became extended jams and improvised snippets functioned as intermissions between songs. Fortunately, nothing energizes like a round of covers, and showgoers could do a lot worse than The Replacements, John Lennon, Nirvana and Beastie Boys. A full-throated take on “In Bloom” revitalized that sagging middle part of the set, and Deervana’s version was the next best thing for audience members too young to have witnessed a performance by its author. The deceptively catchy “Miss K” segued into a cover of Lennon’s “Mother” with tempo intact, as McCauley gave the famous mama don’t gooo! his best shot. There was no mention of MCA’s recent passing as all Turbo Fruits stormed the stage for “Fight For Your Right,” which made the tribute even more poignant—the song was able to speak for itself. There was even a teaser of future cover version greatness; “Yeah, we don’t really know it,” McCauley admitted after a couple attempts at Alice In Chains’ “Man In The Box” broke down. They would do well fix that, as even imagining a Deer Tick cover of that song is enough to get the neck hairs standing at attention (McCauley’s ravaged voice is a distant cousin from Layne Staley’s zombie howl).
The stage was slippery with beer at this point, and many members were clearly intoxicated on more than showman’s adrenaline. The choice for closing song was obvious, and “Let’s All Go To The Bar” saw some much-needed crowd surfing (including one heavyset fan whose surf time was painfully limited). Even bassist Chris Ryan, the band’s most reserved member, took a stage dive after dutifully removing his suit jacket. Maybe he was getting a head start on the beer line; like the song says, it was clearly where the afterparty would be.