Deerhunter are a band so idiosyncratic, so insularly singular that the only thing it seems fair to compare them to are previous incarnations of themselves. It makes sense, then, that as I walked down Driggs Avenue in Greenpoint to go see the Atlanta-bred band at Warsaw for the final night of their sold-out NYC run, I’d recall their set at FYF Fest in Los Angeles during the summer of 2013.
That night was, to use a technical term, fucking bananas. Frontman Bradford Cox came out wearing a nearly floor-length dress and a wig wrapped in a headscarf, which he ceremoniously shed during a manic rendition of “Monomania.” Clouds of smoke erupted rather than drifted from the crowd, and people just generally lost their shit. The band managed to outdo a My Bloody Valentine reunion so loud it could be heard from space.
Last night was a very different show — more composed, less frenetically captivating, but no less brilliant. Instead of a flashy statement piece, Cox wore a simple button-down topped with a baseball cap. Deerhunter opened with Halcyon Digest favorite “Desire Lines,” foreshadowing what was to be a veritable best-of set. They played tight, confident arrangements of many of their best-known songs, such as “Nothing Ever Happened” and “Don’t Cry.”
Warsaw, a venue that describes itself as “A Polish National Home Where Pierogies Meets Punk,” is a bit of an odd bird. One part Eastern European beer hall, one part relic, you can imagine a Krakowiak being stomped out on its floor, or a proletarian political manifesto being delivered from the stage. It is also, quite literally, a box — its walls have no curvature or curtains and there is nothing to impede or argue sound, resulting in the low end overpowering the guitars. Though, to be fair, that did highlight the drumming of Moses Archuleta. That guy is a monster.
Cox, however, would appear to have a sweet spot for Warsaw’s peculiarities. “I like this place,” he said. “You get the feeling it won’t change, that we will come back in five or ten years and there will be the same paintings backstage and the same light fixtures.” With the exception of a few birthday shoutouts, that was the extent of the oft-verbose frontman’s banter. When he told us we were nice people, he seemed to mean it.
A good portion of the set drew from the band’s latest effort, Fading Frontier, their first work since Cox was hit by a car last December. “Living My Life” and “Breaker” were both excellent, but the unexpected standout was “Take Care.” They turned the song into a behemoth last night, managing to somehow assault and ally you with sound simultaneously. By that time I had tucked myself under an awning against the wall; any issue I had with sound quality earlier had been completely assuaged.
Of course, no traipse through Deerhunter’s catalog would be complete without an encore containing “Cover Me (Slowly)” and “Agoraphobia”. From the moment the first chords of that song hit you, you know you are in the presence of something not only great, but timeless.
In an October interview with Noisey, Cox had this to say about his disposition these days: “I live a quiet life…. I am reclusive in that I don’t find there to be much excitement in what the culture I’m around offers. I find more excitement in my house, my books, my dog and my records and instruments.” This was the version of Cox and Deerhunter that was presented last night: a band that, though certainly capable of it, doesn’t feel the need to overwhelm in order to dazzle.