The very essence of rock. Pics by Chris Owyoung, more below.
Le Poisson Rouge
Tuesday, September 9
The Internet had conditioned me to expect totally wacky shit from Bradford Cox tonight. Would he stagger out in a dress and harangue us with vile oaths? Burst into tears mid-song in some sort of Cat Power homage? Pull out a laptop and accidently leak his band’s next album? A bit disappointing, then, at first, that he’s merely a very gaunt (elbows so sharp they probably don’t let him on airplanes), very goofy (he does a great impression of Simple Jack from Tropic Thunder) dude. Yeah, he treated us to a “drum solo,” and there was a terrible death-metal interlude, but that was during the encore, after a quite enjoyable hour of Gawky White Guys With Guitars Revue.
Deerhunter’s talent lies in blatant shapeshifting: Three guitarists merrily bashing away at limber, volatile songs that morph casually from tersely power-strummed Feelies minimalism to indulgent reverb-soaked My Bloody Valentine maximalism to awkward Thurston Moore guitar-swinging freakouts to jaunty, eerily suave Strokes power-pop. This last one in particular freaked me out: live, at least, cushioned by all those axes and worked up into a full roar, Bradford sounds an awful lot like Julian Casablancas, a dude in a completely different universe of stage presence and media hype. But divorced of all its wacky vocal FX, “Hazel St.” recalls Is This It far more energetically than any of the actual Strokes records that followed it.
Evoking all those bands is nowhere near the same thing as equaling or besting them, which leaves Deerhunter doing several things pretty OK but nothing (aside from drawing attention to themselves) incredibly well. But watching a band that can do several things pretty OK is a perfectly fine way to spend an hour, and the tension between Bradford’s wanton corniness (“Do you guys like Halloween?”) and the pulverizing grandeur his band’s capable of can be mesmerizing. In that vein, they peak with “Nothing Ever Happened,” the highlight of the (whoops!) accidentally leaked new Microcastle, Bradford nearly fingertapping the joyous melody that slowly emerges from another extended three-axe jam. To find a greater chasm between the unease of the performer and the confident muscle of the song, you pretty much gotta go watch somebody play Guitar Hero.