18th May 2009
Palpable expectation, a sold out crowd, a critically received album, a loud northerner standing beside me naively exclaiming “I hope they play something off Turn It Up, Faggot” and an unlikely intro tape of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”. This is how it begins. Four boys from Atlanta, Georgia casually stroll across the smoke-filled stage, visibly weary from a weekend of excess at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Bradford Cox, his lanky frame encased in a “Cats London” tshirt looks like your average American on holiday who’s just gotten over his jetlag.
Starting with a trio of tracks from their second album Cryptograms, the room shakes as if one huge reverb pedal has been stepped on, Bradford confiding in the audience “my greatest fear, I fantasized…” as the rhythm section of Moses Archuleta and Josh Fauver lock into a tight pattern, the guitars washing over in waves. The title track segues into “Spring Hall Convert”, with its haunting refrain of “too much radiation” is riveting stuff. The band are incredibly focussed, and it’s not until the end of the Cryptograms trilogy that Bradford stops for a moment to engage with the audience with a broad grin and enquire “are you all on drugs?”.
The tracks extend on significantly from their album incarnations. There’s more exploration, more repetition, more tension. Guitars linger over and over on the same chord, walls of sound build and vocals reverberate. The influence of the old shoegaze guard is readily apparent, but Deerhunter push the envelope further and at times it’s like watching the counter-melodies of Sonic Youth and Pavement being reinterpreted by the next generation of gangly discordants. The Pavement effect is most notable on “Nothing Ever Happens” is the set lynchpin, the most surging track in the Deerhunter songbook, second only to that of the hypnotic Southern-spun psychedelia of “Fluorescent Grey” that follows it.
Their flawless set architecture began to show some weakness in the middle and the momentum begins to slow down. Guitarist Lockett Pundt drifts back and forth in the wings, taking a backseat in much of the proceedings, barely breaking into a smile at Cox’s attempts at humour when a broken string becomes a comedy moment, Bradford relating a pre-tour decision not to bring an extra guitar since they don’t usually break strings (at that point both he and Lockett had broken one each). A new track from the forthcoming Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP is introduced, hinting at a further stream-lined percussive sound.
Coming back for an encore of Microcastle‘s instrumental opener “Cover Me” that shifts neatly into “Agoraphobia” as on the album, Deerhunter are clearly capable of writing succinct pop songs and despite the noted absence of the almost-single “Never Stops”, probably their most sublime three minutes yet, the band edge closer to the periphery of a mainstream audience. An extended “Calvary Scars” closes the set that includes the band coming back on to request some awkward audience participation birthday well-wishing. Due to arrive back in the next few months to play the much larger Koko, it seems the mainstream is just around the corner.