Midway through last Thursday night’s (3/26) Diamond Rugs show at Ortlieb’s in Philadelphia, John McCauley gave the crowd some advice: “If you want to get smart, read a book. If you want to have fun, go see Diamond Rugs.” He wasn’t lying.
The indie rock supergroup is on the road for the first time in two years and kicked off their tour in Philly. Touring behind their recently released second album, Cosmetics, Diamond Rugs ripped through a 75-minute set of tracks off their first two albums. The show was blistering and tight, while sloppy and unrehearsed at the same time. There were missed lyrics here and there, and it was clear that the band hasn’t logged much playing time together due to this being a side project for them all, but it made the show more endearing than anything else.
Mistakes aside, the amount of talent on the stage was clear. McCauley (Deer Tick, Middle Brother), Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate, T. Hardy Morris & the Hardknocks) and Ian St. Pé (Black Lips) share lead singing duties and compliment each other well. Morris’ steady vocals were countered by St. Pé’s loose, speakeasy style and McCauley’s gritty, raspy voice. Diamond Rugs’ rollicking bar-rock is boosted by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) on keys and saxophone, adding an old-school element that only enhances their sound. Robbie Crowell (Deer Tick) and Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) join in on bass and drums, respectively.
This was the first time the songs off Cosmetics were played live and they did not disappoint. While supergroups and collaboration have become the new norm, Diamond Rugs is unique in that you can clearly hear the different influence that each member brings to the band. “Gimme A Beer”, for example, is a raucous crowd favorite that would not feel out of place on Deer Tick’s 2011 effort Divine Providence.
There were fans of each of the members other projects throughout the crowd, but it was quite obvious that McCauley was the man that most came to see. On a stage full of stars, McCauley stands out. Even when in a backup vocal role, the songs that feature him come to life a bit more both on the record and in the live setting. Shouts of “Fuck Deer Tick” were sent in his direction between most songs- a term of endearment that Deer Tick themselves endorse.
While “Call Girl Blues,” “Blue Mountains” and the other seminal tracks off their 2013 debut paced the set list, the songs off the new album, though unpolished, brought a new potency. The packed, sweaty crowd tucked away in that small back room in Northern Liberties ate it up, old and new.
It is not often that you can see this caliber of music in such an intimate locale (Ortlieb’s has a capacity of 100). The dark, crowded space was the ideal setting for the new tunes. “Ain’t Religion” and “Couldn’t Help It” were brought to life on stage, songs that will be refined even further as the band gets some stage time together throughout the tour. The band played nearly every song off their first two albums, closing out with “Totally Lonely” off 2013’s effort and “Clean” off the new record.
Touring as Diamond Rugs seems like a great vacation for these guys as they take a break from their primary gigs. The six-piece is seeping with veteran musicianship, but also the youthful energy born out of something new. McCauley’s advice rang true: “If you want to get smart, read a book. If you want to have fun, go see Diamond Rugs.”
Diamond Rugs Tour Dates:
MAR 28 Pawtucket, RI The Met
MAR 29 Cambridge, MA The Sinclair
MAR 31 Toronto, CA The Horseshoe Tavern
APR 1 Ferndale, MI Loving Touch
APR 2 Chicago, Il Lincoln Hall
APR 3 Saint Paul, MN Turf Club
APR 4 Iowa City, IA Gabe’s
APR 6 St. Louis, MO The Firebird
APR 7 Indianapolis, IN Radio
APR 8 Cleveland Heights, OH Grog Shop
APR 10 Washington, DC Black Cat
APR 11 Brooklyn, NY Brooklyn Bowl
MAY 4 Austin, TX The Belmont
MAY 5 Dallas, TX Gas Monkey
MAY 7 Nashville, TN Mercy Lounge
MAY 8 Athens, GA 40 Watt Club
MAY 9 Atlanta, GA Shaky Knees Music Festival
MAY 10 Atlanta, GA Shaky Knees Music Festival