Middle Brother, Dawes, and Deer Tick at First Avenue, 3/14/11

Middle Brother, Dawes, and Deer Tick
March 14, 2011
First Avenue, Minneapolis

Sometimes writing a review of a show seems futile; like words won't do it the justice it deserves aside from "You had to be there." Monday night's three-parter at First Avenue was one of those shows.

Deer Tick was up first, and while they're described as indie-folk, it's too tight a box for them to fit into. The folk is definitely there but there are elements of the sun-drenched late-'60s hippie scene and southern-fried rock as well. They threw in a cover of Springsteen's "Racing in the Street" and an incredibly spot-on version of Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice" with Middle Brother's (and Delta Spirit lead singer) Matt Vasquez on vocals and guitar for good measure -- and they turned in a set that seems like something The Boss himself would be delivering at the Stone Pony if he was 23 years old today.

After a fairly quick break, Dawes showed up to do what they do best: blow the doors off of whatever venue they might be playing that particular evening. They've been through Minneapolis four times in the last year and proved to be tighter on each occasion. They have professed to love this city in a way that seems to be genuine and this town loves them. To wit: the show here was nearly, if not as full as the one in Chicago on Saturday. 

They had more new material this time (a new record is due this year) including the heart-in-your-throat "So Well" about three men in love with the same woman and a slightly more refined version of "Fire Away" than they played just in December. Dawes always wins huge points for involving the crowd in some sort of sing along, and this time it was during "Fire Away," asking us to sing "When you need someone to walk away from/when you need someone to let you in" in different octaves depending on gender. 

Dawes make heartbreak a little bit fun, somehow. They seem aware of the fact that they can crush us and we'll always ask for more. At the end of their set they brought out Johnny Corndawg (who helped craft some of the songs for Middle Brother) for a short, gleefully, brilliantly vulgar short set of songs that mostly involved women and cars. "God damn there are a lot of you out there!" he proclaimed before breaking into "Keep Your Body Happy Through Exercise" (wink, wink), and there was another song titled "When A Ford Man Turns To Chevy, An Angel Gets It's Wings" somewhere along the way. Dawes then ended with yet another stellar version of "When My Time Comes," this time bringing Deer Tick's John J. McCauley out to sing a verse and play harmonica along with Corndawg and Vasquez, who each sang a little as well.

And then there was one. Middle Brother is comprised (properly, at least) of Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith, Deer Tick's McCauley and Delta Spirit's Vasquez, but Dawes' bassist, Wylie Gelber made an appearance on a few songs and by the end of the set it was just a big party with all the performers onstage. 

But before the end, we saw just what these musicians are capable of. The bands that the members of Middle Brother came from have all been heaped with praise, and it became crystal clear that it was no accident or one lucky "lightning in a bottle" moment for any of them. Songs like "Thanks For Nothing" sound like streamlined versions of songs from any of the other bands, but also have a sound and life of their own. They were all much more loose during this set than any of them had been previously in the night, cracking jokes and such. At one point McCauley said, "The song 'Thirteen' is a trilogy, Westerberg wrote 'Skyway' as part two and now here's part three, 'Two Princes,'" making reference to the much-maligned (and most would say rightfully so) Spin Doctors song. The set cruised from there and after a quick encore that included the Replacements' "Portland" and everyone's guitars being tossed into the air -- and then, suddenly, it was over. Three and a half hours had passed in what seemed like seconds. There's possibly no greater compliment you can pay a night full of great music than that.

Critic's Bias: Making my heart nearly burst with a song will make me love a band. All three bands are fully capable of doing so and all three did so on Monday.
The Crowd: Subdued. Owe it to the music or to it being Monday night, but it was as mellow a crowd as I had ever seen there.
Overheard In The Crowd: "What the hell? Why are these people leaving, do they get that Middle Brother is made up of the other bands? Because I don't think they do."
Random Notebook Dump: There is likely not a better band touring than Dawes right now.

SLIDESHOW: Middle Brother at First Avenue

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