I’ve crossed paths with John McCauley a few times during our many visits to SXSW. This particular time, it was hot as balls and McCauley had lined up his usual dogged lineup with multiple shows for Deer Tick, Middle Brother and wherever else he could sit in. On stage he was electric with what-seemed-like ready made one-liners and an ability to get the crowd whipped into a frenzy with his music. But when I saw him, he was on a staircase away from the crowds – head in hands having a smoke. I went up and did the standard, “really enjoy your work. Maybe come in for a HearYa session,” intro. He was nothing but polite but it looked like he was running on fumes with no end in sight.
I didn’t give it much thought then, as that is a common feeling during SXSW but as interviews and press started building during the release of Negativity, you heard of bigger things weighing down John’s psyche – his broken engagement, his Dad’s tax fraud case, etc. Whether or not John was just exhausted or having a moment of introspection; I’ll never know but that moment stuck in mind as I started listening to Negativity.
After the raucous Divine Providence, which I really enjoyed, McCauley said Negativity would be more serious and dark. Was Divine Providence and his side project, Diamond Rugs, just an escape from McCauley’s problems by singing about getting smashed, call girls and morning hardons? And now with Negativity, McCauley seems to be addressing these issues and/or has addressed him with brilliant results.
Like most Deer Tick albums, there are a whole host of influences throughout. As always, there is a huge twang influence, including a wonderful duet with his current girlfriend, Vanessa Carlton. The tune is In Our Time and it is a classic hardscrabble country tune. Opener, The Rock starts off as some sort of dirge about his broken heart before the rest of the band tears it up with the perfect amount of horns introduced ala Diamond Rugs. Guitarist, Ian O’Neill gets another crack at lead vocals with the fantastic track, The Dreams’s In The Ditch, a take of woe about the music industry.
After a few more listens of Negativity, another moment with Deer Tick stuck in mind. It was a few months ago at a show at Chicago’s City Winery. Deer Tick’s drummer, Dennis Ryan, was tending to a family emergency so the band played a quasi-acoustic set. I went with a few friends and to a man, we all commented that he seemed much more at peace with himself. For John’s sake and for fans of Deer Tick and his other amazing projects, let’s hope so.
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