Music Review

Middle Brother, and their brethren

From left: Matthew Vasquez, Taylor Goldsmith, and John J. McCauley III on Thursday. From left: Matthew Vasquez, Taylor Goldsmith, and John J. McCauley III on Thursday. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / March 5, 2011

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It’s one thing when a crowd thins noticeably between an opening act and the headliner. It’s another when it happens when the headliner is the opening act. That’s what happened, more or less, at the Paradise on Thursday, once Deer Tick left the stage to make way for Middle Brother. What was a packed house suddenly had room to breathe, thanks to a bunch of fans who, having roared with appreciation for Deer Tick and Dawes, didn’t seem to realize that the band they were skipping out on was made up of the exact people they’d just spent two hours cheering.

Maybe they just figured they’d already heard everything there was to hear. There was never a clear delineation between the acts. Deer Tick’s John J. McCauley III popped in to play harmonica during Dawes’ set of no-frill Telecaster country-rock. Middle Brother guitarist Matthew Vasquez joined Deer Tick for a hopped-up cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street,’’ while Dawes’ Goldsmith brothers — Taylor on guitar, Griffin on drums — helped them close out their rough-edged, raucous set with a version of “Down South in New Orleans’’ that had enough Crescent City funk for Little Feat.

Middle Brother held out for about three songs with its core lineup of Vasquez, the Goldsmiths, McCauley, and Dawes keyboardist Tay Strathairn before the open-door policy resumed. Jayhawksy opener “Blue Eyes’’ rode on a wave of stinging, ringing guitars, while the warm, downbeat “Daydreaming’’ was built simply on two guitars and the barest hint of a hi-hat. The wordless chorus of the early Neil Young bummer rock of “Million Dollar Bill’’ showcased Goldsmith, McCauley, and Vasquez’s three-part harmonies.

McCauley eventually opened the floodgates, calling for “the entire cast of the Middle Brother Revue Tour,’’ resulting in two keyboards, two drums, three guitars, and 11 total musicians onstage. But it wasn’t until the final (and, from all indications, unrehearsed) encore of “Twist and Shout’’ that the chaos finally overtook them. Run through with uncertainty as to who would sing when or how long to hold the “aaah’’s, the song, spirited as it was, finally collapsed at the very end. “We did our best!,’’ a shrugging McCauley said happily “Thank you!’’

Marc Hirsh can be reached at

With Dawes and Deer Tick
At: Paradise, Thursday