The Hold Steady and Deer Tick turn the House of Blues into a scream
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
“Are you ready for some music and words and screaming?”
John McCauley was strapping on his guitar and getting ready for Deer Tick to kick off a double bill with The Hold Steady at Boston’s House of Blues. For two bands that share a similar aesthetic if not sound, it was an apt warning for a night filled with giant riffs, ever-increasing tempos and energetic songs from both Deer Tick’s haunting and twisted approach to the almost theatrical presentation of The Hold Steady’s lyrical swagger.
Deer Tick’s set was one right out of a hellfire roadhouse, taking the cosmic country that emerged in the late 1960s and giving a decidedly edgier, nastier tone. Slashing guitars and piercing vocals take what could be a pedestrian set in the hands of a lesser band and make it something electrifying.
“We’re gonna do some rock and roll, because we’re good at that shit,” McCauley said later, aware of what was happening. Some time after that came “Thyme,” a ghostly tune heavy on scratchy vocals and otherworldly guitars that sounded straight out of rock and roll’s earliest days. They finished up their piece of the night with the party mission statement “Let’s All Go to the Bar,” everyone now cashing in on the promise for screams while they yielded the stage to The Hold Steady.
The Hold Steady started their piece of the night a little more pensively, with the near-prayer to lost decades of “Positive Jam,” which blows up into a crush of guitars just after we lost everything we invested in the 1990s. If Deer Tick assumed the role of the playfully evil, The Hold Steady were ready to balance that out with the persona of the hungover poet, fried from another burning night and ready to see if the next will be better.
Watching Chad Finn — now mostly guitar-free thanks to the presence of Steve Selvidge — work the crowd is still an event unto itself. Hanging off the mic, shouting extra lyrics to the first few rows, dancing and grinning, Finn alternately embodies the characters in his songs or serves as an omniscient narrator, commenting on the ridiculousness of their situations, and does it all within the framework of a rock and roll front man.
And in this show, the rock and roll is first and foremost. Even on the gentler numbers, the riffs are massive, falling out of chunky guitars on a thick rhythm, custom-built for pogoing and adopting the pace of an anthemic show. Haven’t not seen The Hold Steady for a few years, what stood out after the show was the sheer variety in the setlist. Their years of writing and recording have made it possible to take all of these characters and tales, back them with grooves that tear the paint off the walls and let them mingle all within the framework of a show.
“I think we played this one the first time we played Boston, around here at Bill’s Bar,” Finn said before launching into “The Swish,” a driving rocker that explodes when the bass and drums come in to meet the guitar. It’s all followed by Finn’s furious recitation on various aliases via Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson’s mingling within a unified scene of young adult partying and drug experimentation.
But all that composes the deeper gems that are mined upon repeated listens. In the moment, the first time the band screams the song out at the audience, it’s a dizzying trip that leaves everyone leveled and wondering what just happened. And then there’s another song just like it but different all together, slammed together, one after the other, until after almost three hours everyone walks out high and delirious.
The hum lasts on the walk back around Kenmore Square, back onto the T and back home, sitting in a living room, eating dinner at 1a.m. and watching hockey highlights. The comedown back to normal life becomes a little more thrilling, thanks to two bands intent on turning another Thursday into anything other than another Thursday. The screaming made all that happen.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org