Middle Brother, with Deer Tick and Dawes
Tuesday, March 16, 2011
Better than: the last (sold-out!) show I went to at the Granada -- by a long shot.
"Music comes first," said John McCauley. "My wiener comes second."
Was this a timeline or a formula for success? Only McCauley could say, and he was singing, not philosophizing. And that's exactly as it should have been.
After de-pantsing himself and dancing in his red skivvies, the Deer Tick frontman launched into a thudding, swampy Southern-rock number at The Granada. He'd been killing it all night but couldn't be that wasted -- after all, he was perched on the drum set and remembered the very last of his incisive, descriptive lyrics. (This was despite the fact that several minutes earlier, he'd dribbled whiskey and Seven all over his shirt, making faces at a fan.) After finishing his solo, he chewed off a beer cap and spit it into the crowd. This kid was giving alt-country a whole new swagger, man -- and the whole of Middle Brother, the headliner, hadn't even graced the stage yet.
Deer Tick was only one of the opening acts, however. (McCauley was also one-third of the headliner. The other two members, Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith and Delta Spirit's Matthew Vasquez, also graced the stage at various points during the opening sets.) The other was Dawes, which consisted of Goldsmith at the helm of several sweet, sun-kissed alt-country tunes. I arrived at The Granada just in time to catch one of my favorite tunes by the band, "That Western Skyline."
Goldsmith's hair, dress and carriage were all eerily reminiscent of Ryan Adams: corduroys, a rolled-up western shirt and messy, wavy hair.
"You can yell 'em out. It's that easy," Goldsmith said to the small crowd, gathered close to the stage.
His friendly, easy demeanor exuded warmth, just like his songwriting. It also made his soulful gesticulations during a tune that he referred to as "the Mashed Potato song" -- it's called "A Little Bit of Everything" -- a wonderfully striking alteration from the tried-and-true classic-rock formula Dawes usually uses.
He then was joined by a songwriter whom all three members of Middle Brother admire called Jonny Corndawg. It took poor Corndawg Jon approximately five minutes to figure out how the hell to get to the front of the stage -- he gingerly climbed over part of the drum kit -- before he found his mic and mumbled into it for a little bit. (My notes: "Man, this dude is awkward.") The highlight of his set, shared with Goldsmith, was a song called "A Silver Panty Liner." A notable quotable: What incredible thunder is rolling on the other side? You can only imagine, Jonny Corndawg.
At the end of Goldsmith's set, a guy in sunglasses and a hoodie ambled onstage. As soon as McCauley sounded his gritty rasp into the mic, the crowd cheered in recognition. The sound was much more rock and roll in person when paired with his snarl. Matthew Vasquez also joined onstage with his flying V guitar, converging with the other two members of Middle Brother on one hair-raising harmony on "When My Time Comes": You can stare right into the abyss, but it's staring right back.
Next was Deer Tick's solo set. McCauley's '50s sleepy guitar riffs were much more garage than twang. (When Deer Tick came out -- tousled hair, tattoos and white band T-shirt -- my sister quipped, "Do you think he likes Kurt Cobain much?")
"I'm used to climbing the rafters at the Jackpot," Deer Tick's guitar player said.
"Last time I was there, a girl kept coming onstage and trying to pull my pants down," McCauley replied. "That was fun."
He surveyed the crowd. "I didn't drink enough beers or do enough pills to deal with this right now," he said, smiling. "Can you guys make me feel better?"
The crowd cheered good-naturedly.
"No, not like that. Can you tell me, It's going to be OK, John?"
A smattering of reassurances echoed from the crowd.
"OK," he said.
The climax of the night, however, was at the end of Deer Tick's set. During his last song, McCauley punched his guitar 10, 20 times. His hand was bleeding, and he took his finger and dragged it, Lion King-style, across his forehead, marking himself with a red smear. Then, he cheered the crowd with his Bud Light and sauntered offstage.
Critics' Notebook: I walked past the Jackpot on my way out of The Granada, where Ty Segall was playing. The place looked packed. How was it?
Overheard in the Crowd: "Corndawg John is wearing a sweater from, like, Christopher Banks."