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With Middle Brother, Deer Tick, Dawes, throw away the score card

Paradise, Boston, March 3, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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It would be understandable if the casual observer lost track of who was on stage when and with which band. After all, between the opening act (Dawes), the middle act (Deer Tick) and the headliner (Middle Brother), there were similar players in some cases and musicians - including friends - coming off and on the stage to lend a helping hand seemingly at will.

While perhaps a bit dizzying for some, all three acts stood on their own (and ultimately together) for an enjoyable night of often times roots-based music.

Dawes, a California-based band with a good lead vocalist in Taylor Goldsmith. A more than competent guitarist, he puts his force into the vocals to deliver the lyrics with feeling and a sense of having lived them instead of running through them.

The group played a few new songs as well from a disc due out later this year and threw in a good bluesy take on Leon Russell's Out in the Woods.

Deer Tick is more of a raucous collective, having a country side as well as one that veers towards the Stones. Lead singer John McCauley seemed to have fewer lead vocal chores this time out. One gets the sense that McCauley would serve himself and the band better by shedding the more gravelly vocals. He tended to slide over words at times. Call it purposefully sloppy because this is how he has sung at other shows. Ian O'Neil, who also handles guitar, took a good chunk of the vocals and did a good job.

Rob B. Crowell on keyboards and saxophone, provided a lot of excellent fills.

Deer Tick could never be accused of presenting anything remotely slick. They tend to have a loose, devil-may-car attitude, which has worked more for the better - as t did on this evening - than the worse.

Middle Brother proved to be far more exciting than its name may indicate. The name may be milquetoast, but the music wasn't. The group is a combination of Goldsmith, McCauley and Matt Vasquez, singer/guitarist for Delta Spirit. They first got together in an unannounced gig at last year's SXXW festival and later regrouped for a formal show in Los Angeles. Now with a self-titled debut out just out last week, the trio - with help from others - is on the road.

The band can't exactly be pigeonholed sonically. When Vasquez sang, the songs tended towards the soulful. Goldsmith assumed a chunk of other lead vocals and like his regular gig, his earnestness came through. On Blood and Guts from the new disc, the song sounded Avetts-esque.

Perhaps most interestingly, McCauley adopted a different role. First, he sang less than he typically does with Deer Tick. But most importantly, he showed more restraint when it came to singing, and that was a positive.

New York-based country singer Johnny Corndawg helped out a few times during the evening, including with Middle Brother and Dawes. He has a more typical country voice, although a few of his songs are a bit too much of a wink-wink kind of thing. With Corndawg and a few others, the night had a feel of a revenue.

Middle Brother could go real soft and spare for a stretch and then turn it up and speed ahead only to slow down again, changing tempos and sounds enough to keep you tuned in.

The musical mixing and matching was dispensed with at the close of the regular set as everyone was back on stage for the title track, Middle Brother with McCauley on keyboards on the humorous song. With a few more songs in the encore, including an apparent extra song with Twist and Shout, this was not a night that you could always tell the players by the scorecard, but it was the end result that mattered.