by Adam McGrath
“This is the first Diamond Rugs show in two years,” said guitarist Ian St. Pé after the band opened their set with “Big God” Thursday night at Ortlieb’s. He meant it as a half-apology for the looseness of the performance, but it was a superfluous gesture; all six members of this band are total pros, and proved it over the next hour of upbeat, feel-good rock ’n’ roll.
Diamond Rugs is made up of musicians who all knew and respected each other from previous projects, and somehow managed to form a band that actually sounds like a band and not a group of individuals. Comprised of John McCauley and Robbie Crowell of Deer Tick, Ian Saint Pé of The Black Lips, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate, and Bryan Dufresne of Six Finger Satellite, Diamond Rugs found the time to put out their second album, Cosmetics (Partisan), and launched their spring tour in Philly to a packed room in the renovated Northern Liberties club.
In case you missed the news, Ortlieb’s changed up their layout and moved the stage to the back of the club’s narrow space. Gone are the comfy red booths, (can it still be a lounge now?) with that space opened up to allow an estimated 75 people to stand in front of the band. On the southern wall where the stage once stood is now a giant wooden box that serves as both sound booth and kitchen. The construction seemed a bit of a headscratcher at first, but I guess it functions better for the staff and does give some separation from the front bar area. The main goal of getting more people in front of the band was achieved, although both spectators and performers had to shed clothing as the crowded space warmed up quickly.
No one seemed to mind the close quarters, though, as Diamond Rugs kept the mood light and fun throughout a set that showcased the skills of each band member while pulling from both albums. New songs like “Couldn’t Help It” and “Thunk” sounded fresh while classics like “Gimme a Beer” set the perfect party mood.
With so many talented songwriters, Diamond Rugs songs span the spectrum of rock music, but each tune works on its own as well as within a set. I liked that many of the songs featured alternating vocals from Saint Pé, McCauley, and Morris. The slightly different deliveries kept things exciting. Morris was probably my favorite vocalist, producing that punk-rock snarl from under a brilliant shaved-sides mullet.
One of the best aspects of Diamond Rugs music was unfortunately underrepresented Thursday night—Steve Berlin’s amazing baritone sax parts. Even after a faulty speaker was swapped out, the horn’s throaty bellow was too often lost in the mix. When it did shine through, the songs just soared to that next level. The band could also work on ending songs together, as many tunes petered out without a proper flourish. Those were really the only first-night-on-tour issues that I noticed, and I’m sure they’ll be cleaned up.
The set closed down with opener Justin Collins joining the band on stage for a performance of a song he wrote for them called “Killin’ Time.” It’s a catchy thumper of a tune, and Collins flung his arms wide as he belted out the lyrics. A call for an encore was answered with “Clean”, the penultimate track on Cosmetics. The sweaty fans happily danced one last time, and an intrepid few hung around to meet the band while most others poured out into the damp spring night.
Diamond Rugs were back at it barely 12 hours later for WXPN’s Free at Noon, and then trekked up to New York for a show Saturday night. Definitely try to catch these guys in the next few weeks as they take Collins and Athens psych-rockers New Madrid around the country.
Diamond Rugs Spring Tour Dates
Most shows with New Madrid and Justin Collins
March 28 The Met Providence, RI
March 29 The Sinclair Cambridge, MA
March 31 The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto, ON
April 1 The Loving Touch Ferndale, MI
April 2 Lincoln Hall Chicago, IL
April 3 Turf Club St. Paul, MN
April 4 Gabe’s Iowa City, IA
April 6 Firebird St. Louis, MO
April 7 Radio Radio Indianapolis, IN
April 8 Grog Shop Cleveland Heights, OH
April 10 Black Cat Washington, DC
April 11 Brooklyn Bowl Brooklyn, NY
May 4 The Belmont Austin, TX
May 5 Gas Monkey Dallas, TX
May 7 Mercy Lounge Nashville, TN
May 8 40 Watt Athens, GA
May 10 Shaky Knees Fest Atlanta, GA