At some point during Thursday night's Diamond Rugs show at The Earl, someone threw a beer can onto the stage. It wasn't as aggressive an incident as it might sound, nor did it appear to be a comment on the band on stage (at least not a negative comment). It hadn't been thrown directly at any particular musician (or if it had been, it fortunately didn't land near any one person), but appeared to be just rowdy participation by the crowd in the anarchic exuberance of the performance on stage.
Since it hadn't hit anyone, most bands would likely have just ignored it and gamely played on. Some bands, punk and metal musicians in particular, might have used it as an opportunity to stage dive into the audience and exact their revenge. On the other hand, one of the more twee bands touring these days might have stopped their performance altogether to lecture their audience on proper decorum, while the audience echoed their disapproval of the act.
John McCauley, front man of the band Deer Tick and one of the principals behind Thursday night's Diamond Rugs collective, chose to let the band play on but picked the beer can up and bit into it, tearing a hole into the side of the can with his teeth and ripping off a big chunk of aluminum with his mouth. After swilling down the remaining dregs left in the can, McCauley proceeded to toss the can off to the side of the stage, but spat the remaining chunk of aluminum over the heads of the crowd at the front of the stage. The stage lights caught the arc of beer spray in the air and someone in the middle of the audience received a unique, if bizarre, souvenir for the show.
Mind you, this wasn't even the most outrageous on-stage antic by Mr. McCauley of the evening. That distinction might have been either pouring an entire bottle of beer over his head while singing the line "Cut me off from alcohol" during Christmas In A Chinese Restaurant, or taking his pants off on stage to change into a pair of tighty cut-off shorts that had somehow appeared in front of him. Instead, the beer-can incident was just but one of many spontaneous interactions between the band and the audience, and the many band members on the stage (I counted a dozen at one point) with one another. Most of the audience didn't even react to the incident, but just kept bobbing along to the New Orleans-influenced blues-rock being played by Diamond Rugs. Business as usual, apparently, for the rowdy band on stage.
That rowdy band on stage, Diamond Rugs, was fronted by Mr. McCauley of Deer Tick, Ian Saint Pe of Black Lips, and Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate, who opened with a nearly 60-minute set of their own before the Diamond Rugs set of equal length. In addition to the usual drum and bass rhythm section, the three guitarists were backed on some songs by pedal steel guitar and on others by harmonica, sometimes heavily processed, and by a horn section that included Steve Berlin of :the band Los Lobos on baritone sax, when he wasn't otherwise playing keyboards. The set also featured occasional guest vocalists and instrumentalists, including a guitar solo during the finale, a cover of a John Lee Hooker song, by the producer of their forthcoming album.
This was the first-ever public performance by Diamond Rugs. Mr. Saint Pe noted the their debut performance had sold out, and expressed his appreciation for people buying tickets to a show by a band that literally no one had ever heard. However, at this point in their development, they had only rehearsed the songs on their forthcoming album, so they played through the entire recording in the order of the album. Mr. Saint Pe, acting as the unofficial MC for the evening, announced the numerical sequence of each song before it was played, e.g., "This is Number Four, now." Mr. McCauley assumed the role of color commenter to Saint Pe's play-by-play, telling the crowd which songs were his favorites and who wrote what, while Mr. Morris generally kept his mouth shut except to sing. All three musicians, McCauley, Saint Pe, and Morris, are each fairly commanding frontmen in their respective bands, and it was interesting to watch the ways they interacted on stage, and to see the respect they all had for one another as well as the fun they were all obviously having.
Before the John Lee Hooker finale, the only non-album song of the night, Mr. McCauley sang his beer-drenched rendition of Christmas In A Chinese Restaurant, and told the audience that the band had wanted to book The Earl for Christmas Day for their debut performance, but could only manage to get Thursday, December 29, due to some prior engagements at the venue, time off for holidays, etc.
Based on Christmas In A Chinese Restaurant, I can understand why they wanted to do a holiday show, but I have no idea why they chose Atlanta. Deer Tick and John McCauley are from Rhode Island, and Saint Pe is from New Orleans (Saint Pe is probably responsible for the Big Easy influence on their sound). While Dead Confederate and Hardy Morris are based in Athens, Georgia, and the Diamond Rugs album was recorded in Nashville, both Deer Tick and Dead Confederate are scheduled to play a New Years Eve concert tonight at Brooklyn Bowl (a bowling alley, not an amphitheater) in New York. It would have made a certain amount of sense for the band to debut in New York since they had to travel there anyway, but they had the good taste to chose the redoubtable Earl in East Atlanta Village instead.
The New Year's party at the Brooklyn Bowl will undoubtedly be a lot of fun, but unfortunately for the good people of Brooklyn, they won't get to see a show anything like what we experienced this week in Georgia. Although Los Lobos are playing the City Winery in Manhattan tonight, making Mr. Berlin potentially available for an after-hours gig, Black Lips are in New Orleans for New Year's before heading out on tour in Thailand and Australia, precluding any possibility of a spontaneous Diamond Rugs show breaking out tonight. I've heard no mention of a Diamond Rugs tour or any other performance dates. For all I know, this might have been a one-time show, and I was lucky enough to have been there.
Kind of makes me wish that I got that chunk of aluminum can as a souvenir.