Arts

MUSIC REVIEW

Deer Tick, Felice Brothers sound rock-star audacious

In their public trappings, the Felice Brothers and Deer Tick typify the reduced ambitions of our digital era’s cottage-industry rock bands. Their early albums look back to homey styles in country, blues, and folk. The Felice Brothers even recorded several in a converted chicken coop. And Deer Tick got its humble name from the blood-sucking critter that singer-guitarist John McCauley found burrowed in his scalp after a hike.

But at Royale on Friday, both acts promoted new albums that publicly disclose an open secret: These guys are also closet rock stars. By the middle of the Felice Brothers’ opening hourlong set, the sold-out club was already packed with roughly 1,000 adoring 20- and 30-somethings.

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Mostly, the stellar ambitions on the Brothers’ recent “Celebration, Florida’’ are musical, updating the quintet’s debt to early electric Dylan with electronic experiments like late Wilco. While a fiddle and accordion pulled the evening into the past, a sampler and drum machine pushed it back on new songs such as “Cus’ Catskill Gym.’’ Belying their bedraggled flannel and reedy voices, the Brothers pumped the set to a peak with singalong roots-rockers such as “Whiskey in My Whiskey.’’ It then receded to a close on pensive new numbers such as “River Jordan,’’ in which Ian Felice proves his cottage-industry independence by cursing the House of Blues in words unprintable in a daily newspaper.

Though more musically conventional, Deer Tick performed with a stylistic sweep and sheer audacity that redoubled the rock-star impression (imagine a self-knowing Kings of Leon). As the band sauntered on stage wearing rumpled gray suits (mostly over T-shirts), guitarist Ian O’Neil warned, “We’ve got a night full of surprises for you.’’ The quintet then laid into the pounding blues-rock of “The Bump,’’ the opening cut on the riotous new “Divine Providence’’ CD. For nearly two hours, the album provided the framework through which Deer Tick connected all sides of their short career, and of rock’s long history, including stirring covers of punk heroes the Replacements and Nirvana, and folk heroes Townes Van Zandt and Michael Hurley.

Franklin Soults can be reached at fsoults@gmail.com.
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