Having officially released their first album just one day before, Middle Brother could not rely on a dedicated fan base to pack the house at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night. But, even though most people may not have known every word to every song, the buzz generated by the side-project of Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez, Deer Tick’ s John McCauley, and Dawes’s Taylor Goldsmith was plenty to draw a crowd in the middle of the week. McCauley and Goldsmith both pulled double duty opening with their own bands, but it didn’t take long for the band-name barriers to break down into a Last Waltz-esque indie folk free for all.
Except instead of their last waltz, this concert marked the first stop on Middle Brother’s two-week tour across North America. Accompanied by the rest of the members of their respective bands, as well as Virginia legend Jonny Corndawg and slew of whiskey-fetching Band-Aids, the group’s undeniable chemistry and talent coalesced onstage in a jumbled exuberance.
The most reserved act of the night, California natives Dawes (of Wave House fame), kicked things off with a quintessentially indie pop set. Goldsmith took the group’s hallmark harmony to a new level by bifurcating the audience, assigning each half a key of “Let Me Be Your Anchor” for a perhaps unprecedented spin on call and response participation. After a sampling from their 2009 album North Hills—including standout “When My Time Comes”—Dawes made room for the Canadian tuxedo-wearing Jonny Corndawg. While Corndawg might traditionally fit in better at a square dance, his twang melded remarkably well with Goldsmith’s edgier complement.
After Dawes’s gentle harmony, the shift to Deer Tick’s badass rock and roll vibe could been jarring. But McCauley—harmonica in mouth, sporting a Dead Kennedy’s shirt (which he would later swap out for a bare chest and fringed leather jacket)—joined Dawes and Corndawg to ease the transition into the Deer Tick segment of the show. The band—with the occasional appearance from Goldsmith, Vazquez, and Corndawg—maintained the balance by combining the lilting sincerity of tracks like “Twenty Miles” with an energetic cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street.”
With all this cross-pollination, by the time headliner Middle Brother took the reigns, all three members of the band had already had a significant amount of stage-time. However, the combination of the three heaviest hitters (all sporting custom-made leather guitar straps crafted by Jonny Corndawg himself) made for the capstone of an already excellent show. With emotions ranging from Bud-heavy fueled energy to heartfelt crooning, Middle Brother and company performed almost their entire self-titled album, including “Day Dreaming” (a ballad about McCauley’s crush on an older lady-bartender) and “Blood and Guts” (sung by Goldsmith for apparently the first time in five years), interspersed with Sam Cooke and The Replacements’ covers and audience sing-alongs.
Although Deer Tick is no stranger to the 9:30 Club—they play the venue about seven times a year—and has been jamming with their buddies from Dawes and Delta Spirit for ages, this was the first time they all officially banded together. It was Middle Brother’s first show, but in a way it was like a homecoming, with everyone obviously overjoyed to be on stage with one another. “Bands on tour aren’t supposed to be having this much fun,” Deer Tick guitarist Ian O’Neil admitted at one point, and sometimes the bands let the party go a little too far—like when McCauley had to pause to clean the cupcake O’Neil threw at him off his guitar. But overall, it was the giddy energy and contagious enthusiasm paired with three acts that could have headlined knockout shows on their own that made for an unforgettable evening and foretells of good things from all parties concerned for years to come.