Deerhunter at 9:30 Club, Discussed
Yes, we've already chewed on Deerhunter a lot this week. Let the chewing continue!
Ryan Little: As a relative newcomer to Deerhunter's spacey tuneage, I have to say Halcyon Digest is a welcome push toward more accessible songwriting. Cryptograms lost me in the ether for a bit, and this album feels more anchored. I'm interested to see how it comes off live. Do you think it’ll be super mellowed out, or will the post-punk roots come out in full force?
Matt Siblo: Ryan, Ryan, Ryan...always late to the party. Though you might have slept on Deerhunter—who, by the way, have already gone on hiatus and come back—your assessment is on the nose. Cryptograms stands as my least favorite with Halcyon Digest on the fast track toward becoming a new favorite, though the Fluorescent Grey EP and Microcastle are both indisputable. In terms of whether Bradford Cox and Co. will bring the fire or the snooze is anyone's guess, but the last time I saw them at ATP NY, it was a finely-tuned mix of both.
I have to say, with the recent spat of sell-outs at the 9:30 Club and the overwhelmingly positive response to the new album, I'm a bit surprised that there are tickets at the door. Predictions on whether we'll be gazing at each others' shoes rather than a packed house?
RL: It's true, the band is several critically acclaimed releases deep, and as a music journalist, it is surprising that I haven't spent much time with them. I think my defense is best summed up by Ian Svenonius in the Felt Letters song "600,000 Bands," but that's beside the point. They do seem to be getting a lot of fan love and media attention, so I'd be a little shocked if the show weren't packed. My well-worn Asics aren't much to look at these days, so I hope folks turn out.
I'm guessing with all the noises going on in the record that the show will be loud. Was ATP a high-decibel affair?
MS: I'll be coming to the show straight from work and will be wearing Sperrys (and khakis!) so I am selfishly hoping for a packed house as to not be ousted as a square. Don't let me down, D.C.
Deerhunter were a real surprise for me at ATP. They were more aggressive than I had anticipated but in a way that suited the songs and not just in a 'let's place this stuff faster' sort of way. I remember them having great lights which, in my estimation, can be the difference between a good and great performance by a band where the expectation is little to no onstage movement.
What'd Matt and Ryan discover? Keep reading!
RL: Well, that was something. I'll admit I was pretty impressed, though there were a few less-than-exciting sections in the set. There weren't really any bad moments, but for much of the first half of their show, I felt like I was at a woozy, drugged out prom. The songs stayed slow, with a kind of minimal Motown R&B backline, and layers of reverb smeared everything together. It was nice enough, but it wasn't mind-blowing.
Everything changed for me when they played "Little Kids" off Microcastle. It was the first tune to really punctuate the steady, sleepy vibe they'd been putting out, and it was incredible. I think you're right about the lights making a big difference between good and great. The climax at the end of the song, with its countless repetitions of "to get older still," was trance-inducing enough, but the strobe-like lighting made the club feel like another planet. It was a rare and euphoric experience.
Was there a moment where the set seemed to change for you?
MS: Ryan, before we get to the meat, I'll say a few words about the openers. Unfortunately, false advertising on the 9:30 Club website led me to miss Ducktails, the one-man outfit (on record, anyway) of Real Estate’s Matthew Mondanil . I did catch most of Casino vs. Japan who, after spending an entire weekend with Matthew Barney, were a bit too formless. After retreating to the basement for most of its set, I re-emerged to your astute analysis of it being (sic) "pretty boring but pretty cool."
Deerhunter, on the other hand, was in top form. I’ll concede that the band was slow to reveal itself and, as you pointed out, "Little Kids" made everything that came before feel quaint in comparison. Luckily, for our taste, the set was Halycon Digest-heavy complimented by the strongest tracks off Microcastle. Speaking of which, the drone outro of "Nothing Ever Happened" might have been the other major highlight for me outside of the monstrous conclusion of "Fluorescent Gray" that closed out the encore. I'm not afraid to admit that at that point, the band's 90 minute set had worn us both out.
RL: It's damn hard to make a one-man electronica show interesting to watch. It can be done, certainly, but it takes something special. In any case, Casino vs Japan's music was interesting, but the show was less than enthralling.
As far as Deerhunter goes, I find myself appreciating encores less and less these days, especially when the set is solid. If a set is well-planned, an extension of it usually doesn't make it any better. Of course, I'm sure lots of folks would've been pretty disappointed had they not played a few more songs.
Speaking of extended, which song had the long, noisy guitar heroics at the end? You know, with the Krautrock groove holding it together and Bradford Cox getting all Thurston Moore on his axe? That was a major highlight for me, and I'm okay with losing some cred by admitting I didn't recognize it.
MS: Your lack of cred is safe with me. (I'm not clear whether it's OK with the Internet, but what is?) The song you're referring to is "Nothing Ever Happened" which I've already listened to it twice on NPR's stream.
A few comments before we wrap this up: Although it might have interfered with last night's all-business approach, it was a shame that singer Bradford Cox wasn't chattier throughout. The few comments he made during the encore were rather entertaining and I think his personality compliments the songs. The only disappointment of the entire evening was the band's inability to recreate the intro of "Revival." I've been listening to that song non-stop for the past few weeks and it punches me in the gut every time. Live, it fell somewhat flat. Next time gents, I expect a touring keyboardist.
RL: I must admit it's hard to go back to listening to some of these songs on record after seeing them live. The volume and the perfectly appropriate size of the venue really made the show for me. They had enough space to let their reverb expand and envelop the entire room. I've seen other bands use a lot of atmospheric effects like that, and it's easy to lose the actual music underneath, but somehow Deerhunter manages to control it so well that the atmosphere just builds on top of what they're doing, rather than muddying it up. On record, that effect isn't quite so big, but at the show it was enormous.
And, you know, I have actually listened to "Nothing Ever Happened," but it didn't jump out at me recorded the way it did at the show. I'm just a sucker for watching indulgent, weird guitar solos on top of solid grooves. It was like watching Wilco shred "Kidsmoke"–I never really want it to end. Messy and inspired guitar solos are making a comeback this decade, mark my words.