Rock stars are a dying breed, and John J. McCauley III is one of the last of his kind.  It was fitting, then, that Ludacris’s “Last Of A Dying Breed” blasted from the speakers before Deer Tick, the folk-rock/alt-country band that McCauley fronts, took the stage at the Echoplex in Echo Park on Tuesday night.**  McCauley is a man whose drunken antics and unpredictable banter comprise one of the best onstage (and, perhaps, offstage) personas in music right now.

When McCauley walked onstage he immediately began throwing rolls of toilet paper into the audience and taking extended slurps from his Budweiser tall can.  The band members strapped on their instruments, but McCauley blabbered into the microphone before actually playing.  McCauley told a story of trashing the Best Western in San Diego the night before by pouring four beers into the TV set, among other funny anecdotes and one-liners.  This onstage banter lasted for several minutes, with McCauley ultimately joking, “I really don’t feel like playing.  I kinda just wanna drink beer and talk to you guys.”

It’s possible that the audience wouldn’t have felt cheated out of their money if that’s what had actually occurred.  McCauley’s banter is one of the most entertaining aspects of Deer Tick’s live shows.  He’s almost like a standup comedian and he has a knack for comedic timing, although it’s difficult to determine whether his onstage banter is improvised or pre-planned.  After finishing up a song, for instance, he explained in a somber tone that the band’s goldfish had died that day.  “We had to feed him to our tour cat,” he added.  McCauley also sipped Ketel One and tonic onstage and claimed he wanted to do a commercial for that cocktail, saying he’ll “learn how to say [“It’s Refreshing!”] in any language.”  He also made offbeat, oddball jokes, like announcing “this song was… written…” before abruptly diving into a cover of The Replacements’ “Bastards of The Young.”

Click Here To Listen To Deer Tick On Earbits Radio!

While McCauley purposefully made the audience laugh throughout the set he also was responsible for some dark, disturbing moments.  The crowd laughed when McCauley said “My mouth is numb I wonder why… This song’s called ‘The Bump’” at the beginning of the show, for instance, but things didn’t seem so funny when he finished a later song with “I thought that song was about quitting drugs, but now I think it’s more about relapsing.”  In fact, going to a Deer Tick show is comparable to watching an episode of Louie.  You watch to enjoy yourself, and you do, but you’re occasionally pulled back to reality, brutally reminded of life’s most depressing aspects.  Over the course of one five minute span, for another example, McCauley described his grandpa as a Korean War veteran, played a song about him, cracked a joke about his other grandpa being arrested for wearing prosthetic whiskers and hanging out in alleys with stray cats, and delivered a sincere “I miss both my grandpas, though.”

It’s easy to focus on McCauley’s humor and antics, but praise is also due to the rest of the band, who managed to remain precisely in time and on-key despite all the chaos erupting onstage.  Deer Tick is a surprisingly tight band for the type of inherently sloppy music they play.  They only loosely follow their set-list but are able to build off of each other if someone starts a new song or an impromptu cover, which seemed to occur several times throughout the set Tuesday night.

That musicianship, along with the group’s relentless energy, are what make Deer Tick one of the best young live acts around.  They’re similar to groups like The Hold Steady in that they could be described as a “bar band,” but there’s a reason they’re playing packed clubs rather than bars filled with disinterested people.  In fact, the band’s encore ended with a rousing edition of the group’s new single “Let’s All Go To The Bar,” after which McCauley jumped on the crowd, likely with intent of surfing towards the Echoplex’s beverage station.  When he ended up back on stage he thanked the crowd, waved, and then tossed his mic and mic stand to the ground for good measure.

I’m sure the damaged mic, like the Best Western room in San Diego, will be added to the band’s tab of destruction.  Go see their next show and help them pay the cost.  You’ll benefit from the experience, too.

 

**Also before Deer Tick took the stage, but before Luda was blasted through the speakers, my night was filled with confusion.  Guards, a band that I didn’t know, was one of the night’s opening acts.  The group consisted of four or five musicians, but two of them stood out: a  girl with long black hair and a strange lap instrument, and a guy singer with long, straight hair.  I kept joking (with a sense of indie superiority) that those two band members looked like Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion from indie group Cults.  A quick iPhone google search of “Guards Cults Bands” resulted in an article that claimed members of Cults also perform in Guards, and that Guards had been promoted via Madeline Follin’s Twitter account.  I felt a sense of journalistic pride at recognizing (who I thought to be) the members of Cults.  After I sent a picture of the band to a friend that loves Cults, however, she responded that the guy with the long hair was actually Madeline Follin’s brother, Richie Follin… and the girl in Guards just looks like the girl from Cults.  To add to all the confusion, I had no idea what the hell the instrument was that the girl was playing.  Although these mysteries were never fully solved, Guards did perform some entertaining tunes.

 

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