On the rooftop of an apartment building, I find the congregation of Deer Tick superfans.
Or at least, “Deer Tick superfans" is what they call themselves.
My three friends — Rachel, Mikal and Aryn — have been talking about the concert we're seeing tonight, headlined by Deer Tick, an alternative-rock band from Rhode Island, for months now. I'd rarely seen such anticipation, especially for such a particular rock group.
Certainly, Deer Tick has name recognition within indie-rock and folk circles, but even my friends will admit that outside of those scenes, many have never heard of the band that they are absolutely obsessed with.
Last year, Rachel and Aryn didn't just write to the band offering to follow them out of state so that they could score free tickets; they did it using Deer Tick song titles and lyrics.
“Dear Mr. Tick,
...I would be depressed that my twenties are half over, except that I'm pretty sure we are gonna win the free tickets for Denver because it's my birthday. You do that right? We're not afraid to do your dirty dishes after the show, and if nothing else I hope we can just be friends. We are 20 miles away from [the Bluebird] and if this isn't possible we will follow you to Houston, TX. Love you deer friend, Rachel and Aryn.”
And even though this plea didn't elicit a response, they still went to the show and ended up meeting members of the band. I'd also been told how, this year, they were going to step up their game at the Bluebird show by wearing deer antlers.
That's when I had to know: What would going to a Deer Tick show with them be like? I decided to tag along and try to understand what makes a Deer Tick superfan, well, tick.
Apparently, it begins with slamming vodka shots. Lots of vodka shots.
And as we sit around a table on the rooftop, watching the sun set over the Denver skyline, I interview my friends about how this whole obsession began.
“Have you heard of the website Daytrotter?” Aryn asks. “I found them on there and just liked the name, so I listened to them, and they reminded me of Tallest Man on Earth."
There's a mixture of glares and unamused stares as Mikal tells me that this isn't a joking matter. “It's something you listen to and it makes you feel something,” she emphasizes.
Mikal has been feeling something ever since Aryn introduced her to Deer Tick in 2011, and they went to a free Deer Tick concert at Keystone that they'd learned about from a radio ad.
That first show was when she learned “what they all look like,” meaning the bandmembers.
This knowledge later came in handy at last year's Deer Tick show, when Mikal spotted the band's bassist, Chris Ryan, in an alleyway following the performance. .
Aryn remembers going into the alley and seeing Mikal smoking a cigarette that she'd bummed off of Ryan.
“I was trying to keep it low-key and pretend like I had no idea who he was,” says Mikal, “even though I had every idea of who he was."
But her low-key profile was blown once Aryn came up and asked the bandmembers if Deer Tick needed help moving their equipment. While this offer was declined, the women did end up getting some autographs.
“Listen, we need to go soon. Can we get dressed?” Rachel cuts in impatiently. She's been paranoid about getting to the show on time ever since I arrived at the rooftop. Another lesson learned: Don't get in the way of a Deer Tick superfan when it's a concert night.
True to what I'd been told, Rachel dons a pair of antlers that has been handmade with twigs and gold pipe cleaners.
“That makes you the deer,” I observe. “So Aryn and Mikal, I guess you're the ticks?”
More glares. I'm still not getting it.
As it turns out, one advantage of going to a Deer Tick show with a group of superfans is that they'll stop at nothing to get to the front of the stage.
Even though the Bluebird is packed when we get there, I follow in the superfans' wake as they forcefully brush aside the unworthy. Pretty soon there's no one else in front of us, and those unfortunate enough to be behind us are forced to look through the antlers.
Tonight's show is an acoustic set, part of Deer Tick's “Spring Acoustic Tour.” This is, I'm assured, even better than an electric Deer Tick set, because it means that “it's gonna get real.”
It did, I think.
Aside from one buzzkill moment when two women next to us got into a shoving match and were hauled out by security, it was a pretty great show. The superfans were singing along to every word, and at one point Aryn told me that the love song being performed by the band was one that she had accidentally posted to a guy's Facebook wall once, giving him the wrong impression that she was romantically interested in him; she had meant to publish a different Deer Tick song.
I'd heard this episode discussed at length by my friends before, like it was a landmark in their lives.
And that's when I got it: Deer Tick isn't a band that my friends Rachel, Mikal and Aryn are individually obsessed with. It is a band that they are collectively obsessed with because it has provided them with so many memories – ranging from the ballads they'd sing together to make it through down moments to their wacky and absurd misadventures at shows.
The reason that they were looking forward to this show so much is because they knew how many unpredictable and funny things could happen to them — together.
After the show ended, the superfans acted on a hunch that they'd find members of Deer Tick out in the alley beside the venue, just as they had last year.
In an almost déja vù moment, we go to the alleyway and find the bassist, Chris Ryan, smoking a cigarette. Mikal strikes up a conversation.
“So, do you still have your rocking-horse necklace?” she asks.
“No,” Ryan responds. “But I have a Buffy the Vampire necklace." He pulls out a small crucifix. “You know, just to keep vampires away."
Just then, other fans run down the alleyway from the sidewalk on Colfax Avenue.
“You're like my favorite fucking singer, man!” shouts one dude into the face of Deer Tick's John McCauley.
Rachel rolls her eyes at these amateurs.
After they finally leave, she, Aryn and Mikal make some last attempts at meaningful interactions with their idols.
Mikal tries, unsuccessfully, to convince the band's keyboardist, Rob Crowell, to use the end of his burning cigarette to light a Mexican candle she'd brought, with Deer Tick stickers all over it.
Then Aryn tries a repeat of last year's offer.
“Do you need help moving your equipment?" she asks.
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“Thanks, but no," Crowell replies.
“Are you sure?"
But the band has already disappeared behind a shut door.
I watch the superfans to see how they'll handle this kind of rejection. They are not deterred at all. In fact, they are elated at the stories they'll be able to reminisce about from this night. They'll definitely be back for another show.