Documentary Review: Imbibing rockers Deer Tick take us “Straight into a Storm”

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“Straight Into a Storm” is a tuneful, affable rockumentary about Providence, Rhode Island rockers Deer Tick, a band that celebrated its tenth anniversary with a rowdy New Year’s Eve show that mimicked many of the hundreds of concerts that preceded it.

Well, except for the balloons.

They’re a twangy guitar quintet (currently) who have, as their front man John J. McCauley III puts it backstage at that 2014 show, made the journey “from indie band to cult band.”

A more apt, less officially sanctioned label might be “best damned bar band around.” When your shows are known for drunken (and other forms of imbibing) revelry, and your fans greet you with “F— Deer Tick!,” and then sing along to “Let’s All Go to the Bar,” and when your sound is country-tinged rock-a-billy built for young white folks drinking, own it.

They wear their influences like tattoos, and in case you miss them, McCauley, bandmates Dennis and Christopher Dale Ryan and others will list them — John Prine, The Replacements, Hank Williams, Nirvana and certainly an uncredited Steve Earle, whose Appalachian drawl you can hear in a lot of their songs, not all of them sung by McCauley.

He comes off as the most unfiltered and the film focuses on him, as the founder of the group, a sleepy-eyed poet/folk rocker who came by “sleepy-eyed” honestly. The bottle is as omnipresent onstage as his guitar, and he brandishes LSD sugar cubes and jokes about his love of assorted hallucinogenics and how free-basing, etc. started to hurt the music.

Can it lead to baldness? Because he shows off his twice a day scalp treatment for that, too. As I said, “unfiltered.”

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The film charts their rise, which is a lot easier to do with bands in this “video camera in every back pocket” era, shots of the grungy/snowy Providence they came up in, the bars they cut their teeth playing in, touring by van, breaking through at the Newport Folk Festival and hitting the liquor store before any recording session.

“Let’s go do a crappy album!”

The albums — “Negativity,” “War Elephant,” etc., made their name and their songs — “Twenty Miles,” “The Dreams in the Ditch” among them — gave birth to their cult.

It’s funny hearing their history and the wacky assorted bands various guys involved were in over the years — Haus, Androgynous Cowboys. Somehow “Deer Tick” stuck.

They’re still on good terms with members who bailed out along the way, and a lot of those guys (including the MC of their New Year’s Eve show) have the funniest anecdotes — being forced to harmonize to prove they’re a band to get out of a speeding ticket in Alabama, or McCauley getting a friend to walk him through his first LSD trip. The friend took him to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

“He thought we’d walk down the aisles and he’d make me name everything we saw as  belonging to ‘Bed,’ ‘Bath’ or, you know, ‘Beyond.'”

The drug material and humor is only funny when you get past McCauley’s self-confessed desire to join “that club,” the “27 Club,” famous musicians who died of drugs by 27. McCauley is now a father the film shows, happily married, a bit less inclined to get hammered, though not a boring teetotaller by any stretch.

Their fans, on tour, in their long engagements in and around Rhode Island, at Bonnaroo, SXSW, or at the Bowery Ballroom New Year’s Eve show in NYC, wouldn’t stand for it.

Films like this are generally for the faithful and are unchallenging at best,  onanistic and “inside baseball” at their worst. The stand outs in the genre have a news hook (“Shut Up and Sing,” about the Dixie Chicks) or other angle (“Buena Vista Social Club,” “Biggie & Tupac,” “I’ll Be Me,” “Dig,” “Anvil”).

But even simpler “Here’s who we are, check us out” pieces can be a fun introduction to the music and the people who make it, like similar films about Metallica, Jay Z, Flogging Molly or Pearl Jam I’ve reviewed over the decades.

And “Straight Into a Storm” manages that, I think. It did for me. Wonder if I can make that October Tampa date, or maybe…Dublin?

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, drug abuse, alcohol, omnipresent cigarettes, profanity

Cast: John McCauley III, Dennis Ryan, Christopher Dale Ryan, Ian O’Neil,

Credits:Directed by William Miller. An Abramorama release.

Running time: 1:41

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