Deer Tick at Privatclub Berlin – Joanna Barbera Holds Her Own

Deer Tick at Privatclub

People showed up early for the concert by Deer Tick at Privatclub Berlin on this Monday night. As the opening act, Joanna Barbera had the chance to reach quite a few new people. She also had to handle that double-edged sword of a room packed with many people merely waiting around for the main act. Admitting that it was her first time in Berlin, she quipped that “the graffiti is magical”, which got a little more of a response out of the audience than a previous attempt at taking the room’s temperature.

Luckily, this German shyness was not reflective of the attitude of those who had gathered in front of the stage toward her music. It did not take long for the first couple of knees to bend in time, then a few nodding heads followed and I could even spy some shoulder action. Not too bad for a Monday crowd in November.

When she announced the Tom Petty cover “Breakdown”, the crowd was clearly curious. Sounding a little different without the strings she features on her studio version of this track, the song still did not lose any of its catchiness and her distinct personal touch was undiminished. The mere fact that a bigger share of the audience was familiar with this piece definitely helped to break down some of that distance to the stage, even if a noticeable physical gap did not disappear.

Jesus and Jim Morrison

The images Joanna Barbera draws from in her lyrics are commonplace, or to put it another way, familiar. This makes it easy to find your way into them even on the first listen and yet she is somehow able to walk that tightrope and not fall off into cliché and empty meanings in the slightest. Her songs are rich in gems like this one from her latest release called “Sun”:

“In catholic school they taught me how to sin

I couldn’t tell the difference between Jesus and Jim Morrison”

Much of why her lyrics have a way of sticking with you and carry a significant punch is undoubtedly owed to her strong vocal skills that even the burgeoning sore throat could not take away from. Her delivery was sure and made it easy to tune out the background chatter, focusing in on the music alone and even getting a little lost in it. After this very solid opening set for Deer Tick at Privatclub, I am very curious to see and hear her perform with her two violinists backing her up some day.

Going into this show, I was surely hoping for a good opening act that would maybe make me curious enough to check them out some more the next day. Instead, I ended up being just as taken with Joanna Barbera’s music as I was thoroughly entertained by Deer Tick’s powerful headline set that followed.

Deer Tick Take The Stage

The room was packed by the time that the main attraction of this Monday evening stepped up to their instruments. There were no holds barred at this show by Deer Tick at Privatclub. The band made this clear from the very start. “S.M.F.” crossed over seamlessly into “These Old Shoes” and John McCauley then announced “it’s good to be back”, taking a swig from his Pilsner. The Band gleefully tore through their set, continually firing up the crowd and only stopping briefly in between for a quick instrument change or tuning (the perspiration clearly upped the humidity in the room fast).

Especially Dennis Ryan on drums always seemed ready with a story whenever they were forced to bridge a few moments before jumping into the next song. Before playing their recently released song “Hey! Yeah!”, Ryan said his wife had asked him if the song was about her, to which he had to confess that it wasn’t. “It’s actually about LSD. That’s my love song. About psychedelic drugs. She puts up with a lot.” Deer Tick then followed that up with another love song. “My dog’s love song about me, so there’s that”. The crowd loudly sang along to the chorus of “Me And My Man”:

“Me and my man
Me and my main man
Me and my man
Me and my main man
Running fast
Catch us if you can”

Each song played by Deer Tick at Privatclub seemed to amp up the crowd a little bit more. If the cold did not take my voice already, singing along probably would have done the job all by itself. The many guitar and drum solos were welcome respites but even more so a joy to watch.

No Time for Labels, Deer Tick Came to Rock

Notoriously uninterested in how critics label and categorize their music, Deer Tick made quick reference to this announcing they’d play some folk now. “And a bluegrass version of every song we’ve already played”, Ian O’Neill joked as he switched to the Mandolin (lovingly referred to as “the banjo or ukulele or whatever” by McCauley). A handful of people almost appeared to break into an impromptu line dance during “Hope Is Big”, and “Twenty Miles” from their 2010 album “The Black Dirt Sessions” was a real treat:

“Now if I had no boots I’d trek through mud
While mosquitoes are racing to draw the first blood
If you’re running away then I’m looking for you
And if you’ve lost your way I’m seeing you through”

High energy, passionately echoed lyrics – the entire performance of Deer Tick at Privatclub was a fan’s dream come true. The band visibly enjoyed themselves just as much. All seasoned touring musicians, nothing could stop this train. When Ryan’s bass drum pedal disintegrated, nobody on stage was too surprised and they quickly laughed it off. Moving right along into “Wants/Needs”, Ryan decided to call it a song about buying a Volkswagen:

“She want a brand new car
And I need a brand new soul
I pulled the pin of her heart
Sit back and watch her explode”

To close out an incredibly fun night, the encore by Deer Tick at Privatclub blew the roof off with “Jumpstarting”. The band then took it down a notch with a cover of Santo And Johnny’s “Sleep Walk”, and finally a perfectly fit for arms-around-shoulders swaying rendition of “Ashamed”. The band left the stage with big smiles on their faces. McCauley gave a flurry of high-fives, and at least my week had already been made. If you love a good live show, Deer Tick is a sure bet. Hopefully they will be coming back soon enough after “Mayonnaise” releases on February 1st next year.


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Picture by: Deer Tick